How not to: the ultimate car crash interview

By July 22, 2023Public

I suspect quite a few MJA members who provide media training will have added Beth Rigby’s polite, but lethal, dissection of Stonewall chair Iain Anderson to their collection of ‘how not to’ examples.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can catch up with the full rocky horror show here.

Until now, it was hard to find a more toe-curling interview than the car-crash series by Blackberry’s European MD Stephen Bates — way back in 2013.

For those too young to remember, or who may have forgotten, Bates  started badly with Steph McGovern on BBC Breakfast and by the time he got to Nicky Campbell on 5 Live he had gone from a car-crash to jack-knifing a juggernaut and creating a motorway pile-up.

His only consolation was that unlike Anderson’s interview, which has been widely shared and mocked on social media, Bates’ horror show happened when Twitter was still a fledgling.

But while there is a decade between the interviews, both men made the same rookie errors:

  • Lack of preparation for predictable questions
  • Repeatedly evading questions
  • Sticking to their script, regardless
  • Repeatedly trotting out buzz words and catchphrases

Mercifully for Bates his last interview was on radio, so we can’t see the intense discomfort which is so clearly conveyed by his stutters.

But Anderson’s body language — at times clutching his chair or rocking backwards and forwards as Rigby delivers a question — along with the close-ups showing his increasingly damp upper lip, and nervous attempts at a smile, confirms he knew things weren’t going well.

In subsequent statement, Stonewall said, “The interview was supposed to be [my emphasis] an opportunity to talk about 10 years of marriage equality, LGBTQ+ veterans, and Rainbow Laces 10 – all remarkable moments that deserved recognition and celebration.”

Given Anderson’s extensive background in communications and strategy, and his previous experience as a journalist, I think this shows an extraordinary naivety.

The purpose of an interview is to extract information and explore issues which are sometimes controversial or contested. It should not a platform for self-promotion and back-patting — although this has become the norm in celebrity interviews.

Rigby is also well known for her incisive and skilful interviewing style, which makes Anderson’s assumption that he had been invited for a cosy fireside chat about rainbow laces even more bizarre.

It’s a salutary reminder that it doesn’t matter how much media experience you have, things can still go horribly wrong. It’s an often repeated cliche, but failure to prepare is, indeed, preparation for  failure.

We’ve all seen how things worked out for Blackberry. I wonder where Anderson and Stonewall will be in ten years time?

">Get in touch with the MJA if you’d like to connect with media trainers with specialist expertise in the health sector, for a grounding the basics, or to refresh your skills.

Jane Symons

Author Jane Symons

Jane is a freelance journalist, author and media consultant whose credits range from The Sun to the World Health Organisation.She edited the health pages of The Sun for five years, and is a former health editor of Woman's Own and chief sub-editor of the Telegraph Magazine.At one time or another she has written for national dailies and magazines including The Sun, Daily Mail, Times, Telegraph, Daily and Sunday Express, Daily Mirror, Woman's Own and Woman & Home. She is currently a regular contributor to the Express and Mirror. Jane provides a range of bespoke consultancy services including content creation, media strategy, writing reports and press materials, crisis communications, media advisory boards and media training.Her book, How to Have a Baby and Still Live in the Real World has been published in the UK, USA, Russia and Sweden. Pregnancy: the Best for You and Your Baby has been published in countries including the Netherlands, France, Spain and the Czech Republic.

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