It's my story: helping care-experienced young people give effective media interviews
Deciding on your personal agenda
Using personal stories with the media can be very powerful in challenging stereotypes and creating change in the public care system. But it is something which a young person needs to consider carefully. In this section of the training you can help young people to think about:
- why they might choose to give interviews about their own experiences
- the issues this might raise for them
- what they might do to stay ‘in control’ of their personal stories
- what preparation they might need
- any support needs they may have after the interview.
You may find it helpful to use Slide 14 to start this discussion. Explain that these are the sort of questions they will need to ask themselves before they agree to take part in an interview.
Be clear of your agenda
- Why am I doing this?
- What do I want to achieve
- What ‘evidence’ from my own experience do I need to use?
- How much personal information am I prepared to share?
- How can I protect other people?
- What support do I need?
You will need to help the young people recognise some key issues relating to using examples and information from their own lives.
- Telling your friends how you feel about your family is very different from saying the same thing in front of a large audience of strangers.
- Family and friends may watch the interview and this may affect your relationship with them.
- Interviews may be repeated in the future – long after circumstances have changed (you may have resolved a family argument brought up in the interview, for example, or moved on in other ways).
- If you make allegations about someone which haven’t been upheld in court, then this can be seen as libel. Programmes won’t be able to broadcast this or if the programme is live, the journalist may have to say something along the lines of ‘Of course, that hasn’t been proven in court’. They do this to avoid any risk of being prosecuted for libel. This can be quite upsetting for a young person who feels that the journalist doesn’t believe them. So you need to help them understand that the journalist may not doubt their word but the journalist’s editor has to make sure the programme avoids the risk of prosecution in all cases of this nature.
What support will you be able to offer to young people who do interviews on behalf of your organisation?
It is normally appropriate to:
- help them prepare for the interview
- accompany them (if feasible and affordable)
- be available after the interview either in person or by phone.
Sometimes people feel rather anxious after giving an interview as they may worry about what they have said, or failed to say, and may need reassurance about this. Try to focus on the positives and encourage them to realise that there is no such thing as the perfect interview – almost everyone wishes afterwards that they had said or done something differently. In normal conversation we make slips of the tongue and don’t always phrase things quite the way we would like, but listeners are human beings too and they are used to listening to ‘imperfect’ human conversations.
In this excerpt about the closure of family planning clinics for young people, Alma makes a slip of the tongue by using the word ‘contraception’ instead of ‘pregnancy’. She corrects the mistake very naturally, remains calm and goes on to seize the agenda by introducing new information to her argument.From media training with Voices from Care Cymru, commissioned by SCIE
Praise young people for their willingness and courage in doing the interview and their commitment to getting their point across. And remind them that this will have boosted their confidence to take on other challenges in the future. (Obviously if a young person has a really negative experience and feels disempowered by this, then it is important to consider whether to put them forward for other interviews.)
It is always helpful to hear or watch an interview you have given. But don’t assume every programme will offer a copy of the interview – if they did this for every guest that took part they would never have enough time to do anything else! (And don’t forget, local radio stations are constantly interviewing people from voluntary and community groups and other not-for-profit organisations and causes, so they won’t see your organisation as anything exceptional.) If young people want a tape of something which is being broadcast live, they should ask for this before they give the interview (afterwards may be too late as there may be no copies of the programme).
If something is being broadcast in the future then young people (or your organisation) should ask to be notified of when this will be and arrange for several people to tape it – and also ask for a tape from the station.
Journalists sometimes won’t remember your request for a tape or copy of an article (they are often very short-staffed and deal with so many different individuals), so you may need to remind them politely.
This can be a useful time to start thinking about how young people can protect themselves and the identities of other people in their lives, but still use powerful anecdotes and examples to get their points across.
For example, instead of saying:
When I was in the Lime Tree Children’s Home my mate Danny was very upset by …’
the young person could say:
When I was in a children’s home some of the other young people there were very upset by …
Instead of saying:
My mother was an alcoholic at the time and my dad beat her up, and she never looked after us properly, and social services took us away and my sister Jasmine went to one foster carer, and my brother Dylan went to another, which really broke my heart…
the young person might choose to say:
My family was going through a very difficult time and we were taken into care, and I found it heart-breaking being separated from my brother and sister …
It is, of course, perfectly OK to say: ‘That’s something I would rather not talk about’ if a question feels too intrusive, but they should always avoid that old cliché ‘No comment’.
Err on the side of caution
Explain that it is best to keep information about other people as non-specific as possible. Avoiding naming them is not always enough. They should also avoid the ‘jigsaw’ identification technique because it is not anonymous, and can be considered to be libel. For example: ‘He’s this famous local footballer I can’t name, but he’s seven feet tall and is married to a supermodel and has eleven children … ’
Advise young people not to give out addresses or too much detail about where they live, unless this is intrinsic to the story, such as ‘the centre being closed on my street’. It’s often best to talk about an area of the city rather than a road name, or a part of the county rather than the name of a small village.
On the other hand, you have to recognise that young people have a right to explain their perception of their situations, especially when it impacts on the way other people perceive them. Your responsibility is to make them aware of the risks and to be cautious about how they do this – and ultimately a journalist must decide if they feel this comes too close to libel.