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The rules of the interview game

5/31/2006

When a reporter in the CBS television documentary "The Guns of Autumn" asks one sportsman why he hunts, the man replies, "It kinda gets in your blood, like an addiction, you know, like drinking and gambling."

Score one point for the anti-hunters.

Each hunter is a spokesman for the entire hunting community. What you, as a hunter, say and do in the eye of the media is more important than ever before.

Suppose that you get a call from a local radio or television station or newspaper for an interview. Based on 35 years of work in the media business, on both sides of the camera, I offer the following suggestions:

Avoid debates

Ask ahead of time if this going to be a debate. If so, with who and about what?

In general, debates with anti-hunters are something to avoid, because most of the time debates only test your debating skills.

If there is a specific issue at hand and you've done your research, then it may be worth it.

But realize that antis openly admit they lie to support their cause, and they want nothing more than to bait you into getting pissed off.

Why get involved if opinions aren't going to change? Go for the situations where you have the time to make your point and be understood.

Be yourself

Don't try to act.

People who have an open mind will recognize people who speak honestly, from their heart.

But do practice points you want to make and visualize yourself making them before the interview to reduce anxiety.

Be prepared

Think through some questions you are likely to be asked and prepare some short, concise answers. These are points you want to make regardless if they ask the questions or not.

For example, everyone who hunts should be able to give an intelligent answer to the question, "Why do you hunt?" Consider the following points:

  • Hunting is a tradition enjoyed by millions. We take hunting seriously and are thankful for what it means to us and show our thanks by supporting conservation work. It's rich in heritage and tradition.

  • There is no biological reason to oppose ethical hunting. Animals will die. If hunters don't kill them, they will die of natural causes, which usually are more prolonged and painful than being killed by a hunter. Hunting is simply participating in the food chain. We've been doing that for thousands of years.

  • Most behavioral scientists agree that hunting is a healthy natural instinctive behavior; predatory aggression is motivated by pleasure. The fact that people dream of predator animals shows that the symbols of the hunter live in our psyche; therefore, there is a hunter in everyone.

  • There are no major psychological or anthropological writings that find that hunting causes violence or crime. In one of the few studies that has been done about hunting's influence on violence, Chris Eskridge at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, found that, nationwide, as hunting license sales go up, levels of violent crime go down.

  • Wild game meat is health food. It is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. By hunting for food you are simply taking responsibility for harvesting your food, which makes you feel more respectful of nature.

  • Largely because of hunters, we have more of many game animals than in any time in the last century. Hunters are conservationists because they hunt.

    Know your role

    Are you there as yourself, the representative of a group or as an expert?

    Unless you are an expert in a certain field, if a technical question comes up you will want to quote expert opinions. If you quote others, make sure that the people are well known and from the fields in question.

    Two books that should give you all the facts you need to speak with authority about are "In Defense of Hunting," which covers the human issues and is written by myself, and "Know Hunting" by David Samuel, which addresses politics and biology.

    For an excellent reference on children and violence, see forensic psychologist Helen Smith's book "The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill."

    Project a positive image

    Dirty camouflage may work in the woods, but it will project a bad image on camera. Wear neat, upscale casual clothes.

    Speak with your eyes

    If you are being interviewed on camera and you are told to look at the interviewer, get a sense of how friendly they are.

    If the interviewer is hostile and you look down or away, you will look less credible or intimidated.

    To keep your image, keep centered and don't engage their eyes. Instead focus your attention on their nose.

    If you are looking directly into the camera, focus not on the lens, but on the back of the lens where the image is being recorded.

    If you don't think this makes a difference, try it with your home video camera. Your eyes are the most important communicator you have, except for your voice. Remember, the camera is your friend.

    Be leery if the interview is spontaneous

    If you are out in the field and are approached by someone who wants to film or interview you, the first thing you should do is ask them to identify themselves. Get a business card and find out what the interview is for.

    If someone is videoing you from a car, get the license number. You can never tell where the video may show up.

    If someone misrepresents you, get a copy of what he or she says or show and consult an attorney. As a private citizen, it is easier for you to prove slander than if you are a celebrity.

    Milwaukee personal injury attorney and an avid hunter Michael Hupy advises that people have a right to voice opinions about whether something is good or bad. Only when they claim that you have acted in an illegal, immoral or otherwise defamatory false manner can you sue for slander.

    Appreciate the battles vs. the war

    Interviews and debates are skirmishes in a long, ongoing war of public opinion. Each interview is important, but, in the long run, the way you change public opinion is by multiple exposures to the same positive message about hunting coming from as many different ways as possible.

    Each hunter, hunting club and organization needs to set an example — not just doing good conservation work, but by humanitarian service to the community at large that shows by example that hunters are good, caring people.

    In addition, stock the local public and school libraries with books and videos that give hunting a good image.

    If the general public accepts hunting, the need for interviews and debates about hunting will slip away, and we will all have more time to enjoy ourselves in the field.

    James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting."
    Click here to purchase a copy of the title.

    To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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