On Sunday, April 13, I had an interview with KWWL about the Heartbleed security exploit. I’ve been getting some questions from people regarding that interview, so I thought I might address them briefly by offering this Q&A.
Q: “How did you get selected to be interviewed?”
I’ve done work with print, radio, and television news reporters in the past, mostly about sustainability, but also about other topics including technology which has been my primary area of expertise over the past 30+ years.
The last interview I did about technology was a brief commentary for KGAN last fall about the topic of digital literacy. So, I think past experience opens the door for future interviews when reporters know you’re accessible.
I also have several technology websites that I manage, so I’m easy for people to reach.
In this particular instance, the reporter working on the Heartbleed story was calling around to see who might be available on short notice to help with the story.
Often the person who ultimately gets selected isn’t necessarily the area expert on the story, but someone who is sufficiently knowledgeable and also available at a time that meets the reporter’s schedule.
In the past I’ve turned down interviews when I felt someone else might be available who has more knowledge on the subject.
One of my concerns about doing this interview was that others in my profession may feel they were a better choice for an interview with someone represented as an IT expert.
Q: “How did you choose the venue for the interview?”
I have a few locations where I would prefer to conduct interviews with the media. Weather permitting, I usually choose an outdoor location. On one occasion I chose to have an interview in the lobby of the Hotel Vetro. It’s a nice modern setting.
For this recent interview, I chose to meet at the Iowa City Public Library. Being a public facility, the library doesn’t allow any commercial use of their property, but since this was a non-commercial public-service announcement without any intention of self-promotion, we were given permission to record.
It was felt that the second-floor computer lab at the library would be a good backdrop. However, that room was in use, so we used two of the computers near the circulation desk as a backdrop.
We did a short interview for the 5 o’clock news segment. However, due to another breaking news story, and our concerns about creating disruption at the public library, we planned to meet later to continue working on a longer segment for the 10 o’clock news.
The only other place available that I could think of was another public computing facility as a generic backdrop. So we met there.
Q: “How was it decided what title to use for you in the video?”
Usually a reporter will ask for your name and occupation when conducting an interview. For this particular interview, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t want to be perceived as representing my full-time employer. So, I went with a more generic title, and made sure not to mention my full-time employer.
Whenever speaking to the media, unless you’re acting in an official capacity for an organization or business, it’s important that your words are perceived to be your own opinion. So, no insignias, logos, uniforms, name tags, or identity information should be conveyed unless intended. This also helps avoid potential liabilities for anything you may say or represent that could be taken incorrectly or otherwise result in a negative impact. In this way, it won’t be attributed to your employer.
In this instance, I also didn’t want to mention my own formal business name or contact information for reasons I explain below. So, I didn’t provide a website address or other business contact information.
Q: “Did you receive any financial compensation for doing the interview?”
No. As mentioned above, the reason we were initially allowed to conduct the interview at the Iowa City Public Library is because the news story was a “non-commercial public-service announcement without any intention of self-promotion.”
Q: “Did you do the interview to promote yourself?”
No. As mentioned above, the story was done as a public service announcement. With regard to my independent consulting, I have a diminished need to promote myself. For over a year now, I’ve been referring almost all support requests to young professionals in the area who I mentor and volunteer to help get started in their own freelance consulting careers. Most of the clients I still work with on a regular basis have been long-term ongoing customers – some for 10 to 20 years or more. Some of the new work I’m picking up is pro bono volunteer work for non-profits, charities, and public interest groups.
A business owner might assume that having an interview with the media would be a good opportunity to get free advertising. That’s not always the case. Unless the news story is a special interest piece specifically about a business, typically the news reporter doesn’t allow someone being interviewed to self promote with comments like, “Come visit our business for all your computing needs.” That would unfairly compete with their paying advertisers. News reporters also will make an effort to ensure that visual or spoken brands aren’t introduced into the story unless applicable. This would be considered a form of product placement or advertising.
Even in situations where you can get your business name into a news story, the results aren’t always desirable. Other than online sales, most businesses are limited to a certain geographic region smaller than the coverage area for the news broadcast. Businesses are also limited by staffing making it difficult (or harmful) to try and take on a short-term overwhelming increase in new sales.
As a result of a news story, a business might get inquires from people outside of their reasonable sales area. Usually such inquires are from people looking for free advice. So, rather than producing a profit for the business, it ends up resulting in a flood of unwanted phone calls and emails that don’t produce revenue.
With these things in mind, for this interview, I went with a more generic title of “Iowa City Technology Services Director” which could easily be understood to mean that I’m a technology services director in Iowa City.
A Google search for Iowa City Technology Services brings up a list of local IT businesses. I do have a website by that name. It’s one of several technology websites I maintain, but it contains a list of local computing consultants in addition to my own business. So, the website is not entirely an effort to exclusively promote myself or my business.
In addition to using a generic title in the interview, the news segment didn’t provide any personal information such as email, phone number, address, website, or formal business name. I did this to avoid even the appearance of self promotion.
In addition to the reasons mentioned above, one needs to be careful when talking publicly about security issues. It’s important not to disclose anything that could be used adversely against you. It’s also important not to become a target to malicious hackers looking for someone to make an example out of. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to keep a low profile when it comes to public discussions about security.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about the interview. I may update this page to reflect additional questions or clarifications that are needed. Thanks!