How to proceed with a media interview, related to a lot-splitting/overbuilding application, if you are not experienced at this task

I’ve been involved with media interviews for over 30 years, as part of my volunteer work. I’ve appeared in local, regional, and national media interviews. I’ve helped many people prepare for such interviews, as well. By media, I refer to radio, television, and print news reports and features. How I became involved in this area is a long story which, while of interest, is not the point of the current post.

Media interviews with residents

I have an interest in helping people support development, in neighbourhoods across Ontario, that is in alignment with the Official Plan and respects the physical character of their neighbourhoods.

In that regard, the Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines, applied (to whatever extent it is, in fact, applied) within the context of the local committee of adjustment and Toronto Local Appeal Body offer some hope that the physical character of Toronto neighbourhoods will be respected, as redevelopment of existing housing stock proceeds.

The guidelines in Long Branch are part of a pilot project that, if things go as planned, will be carried forward in neighbourhoods across Toronto. A similar pilot project has been underway in Willowdale. I look forward to learning about next steps for the Willowdale neighbourhood character guidelines project. If you have a news update to share, please contact me at jpill@preservedstories.com or through this website.

So, let’s say that you have agreed to be interviewed, in your role as a resident, who has a concern about a lot-splitting/overbuilding proposal at a building on your street. How do you prepare for such an interview?

For interviews of this nature, I would say the key thing is to stick to verifiable facts.

It’s best – in fact, it is absolutely imperative! – to avoid speculating about anything.

I would also avoid all comments of a personal nature, and any comment that is fueled by strong emotion, with regard to the developer, who is applying for a lot-split/overbuild, or anybody else.

If you just state why the proposed variances are objectionable, from your vantage point as a resident, the reporter will have good material to work with.

These points are important for any resident who is interviewed.

A further note about media interviews, and how to set up a community association

I have moved from Long Branch, where I had lived for 21 years, but I do keep in touch with the community. I’m writing a book about Long Branch, based on all of the great material (including sound recordings and video recordings) that I have accumulated, as a long-time resident.

By way of a further note about media interviews, I will add an anecdotal remark about them. In my experience of being interviewed – by television reporters in particular – over the years, I’ve learned that when I “get into the role,” so to speak, I end up with longer clips being broadcast, as compared to when I do not “get into the role.”

That is to say, in recent years, when being interviewed, I’ve learned to “ham it up” in subtle ways. I take on the role of a person who is consciously “on stage.” I often speak slightly more slowly, and with slightly more emphasis and use of brief pauses, than would be the case in everyday conversation.

This is something, however, that only comes with experience. When you are doing your first few interviews, just stick to the advice that I have outlined at the beginning of this post. In that way you will be able to get your point across, as a resident, while avoiding having to deal with certain complications, so to speak. If you come across as a hothead, you will not be helping anybody.

I can add a few random thoughts. In preparing for an interview, it’s good to have two or three key (evidence-based, totally accurate) points in mind, that you wish to share with a wider audience.

Sometimes, I’ve met with people who are going to be interviewed, and I’ve done rehearsals with them. Such rehearsals can be very valuable.

Studying an interview, after it has been broadcast, can also be helpful.

Video recording a rehearsal and studying it can be useful, as well, although I have never gone that particular route. I’ve recorded rehearsals of presentations, in the past, and have found that particular way of preparation can be highly useful, but that’s not the same as media interviews.

How to set up an effective and sustainable community association

A related topic concerns the setting up of neighbourhood associations. Again, I’ve been involved with setting up of national and international nonprofit associations for over 30 years. It’s a part of what some people (me among them) like to call community self-organizing. Some key points:

  • Spend plenty of time in planning the launch of the association
  • Use a professionally designed survey to establish the key concerns that motivate would-be members of the association;
  • If you can, work from the start with people with expertise in public opinion surveys, and expertise in strategic planning
  • As part of a survey, get input from residents regarding the preferred name of the organization – for example, will it be called a “neighbourhood association” or a “community association”?
  • As a rule a shorter name will work better (including for media interviews) than a longer one; in some cases I’m aware of, associations have shortened longer names to shorter ones, and have gained benefit as a result
  • Spend plenty of time setting up the board of directors structure (it’s helpful to see how other associations have set things up); ensure there is broad agreement regarding how the board will go about making its decisions
  • Through the survey and other means of getting feedback, and by listening closely to what every person has to say, you can ensure that members feel a strong sense of ownership of the association
  • At meetings, ensure that speaking time is shared more or less equally among all would-be speakers, rather than setting up a situation where just one or a handful of people do all the talking; in many cases, having people meet at tables, with one spokesperson reporting back to the group as a whole, is an ideal way to ensure speaking time is shared
  • An association that is only interested in just one key matter will be decidedly less effective than one that addresses a broad range of community interests
  • Build into the constitution, right from the start, a plan for leadership succession – you want an organization that continues to thrive long after the founding members have burned out, passed away, or moved on to other interests
  • One of my own favourite learning experiences, repeated with many organizations that I’ve helped to launch, has involved stepping back, after some time, from a leadership position – thereby letting go of the power and authority that goes with it – and resuming life as an ordinary member
  • Welcome new people including young people, and promote leadership development, and organizational growth and renewal, at every opportunity
  • Establish a communications strategy (including procedures for media interviews) right from the start
  • Have a strategic plan in place and follow it closely; ensure there is input from people with experience in strategic planning, when setting up and revising such a plan
  • It’s advisable to have broad agreement regarding a code of conduct for board members, and a procedure in place to ensure that the rare individual who does not abide by such a code can be quickly removed from the board

 

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