Communications: Press Relations - Preparation is key in talking to media

When Janey Antoniou agreed to talk to the Sunday Telegraph about her mental illness, little did she guess that the finished article would appear alongside a picture taken from cult horror film The Exorcist.

"I thought the interview went fine," she says. "The journalist asked me one question about exorcism and that became the focus for the entire article."

In order to prevent incidents like this happening to others, Antoniou has helped write a booklet entitled You and Media: Tackling Media Interviews with Confidence for Rethink.

The booklet is aimed at the 200 media volunteers Rethink has on its database. It contains interviews with beneficiaries who have agreed to talk to the media about their experiences to try to change some of the myths surrounding the issue.

Liz Nightingale, media volunteers manager at Rethink, says: "I realised it was much more useful for volunteers to speak to people who had experience of dealing with the media. That's how we got the idea for the booklet.

"Mental illness is a sensitive issue and people are anxious about speaking to the media because they are worried about being misquoted. We do our best to reassure them."

According to Antoniou, preparation is key to any interview. "Make sure you know what kind of publication you are talking to first by having a look at a copy," she says. "Speak to the journalist so you understand what they want before you agree to anything."

Antoniou also believes interviewees shouldn't feel obliged to talk about anything they don't want to. "It's important that you work out what your boundaries are," she says. "The journalist will tend to focus on the worst part of your illness because, in their eyes, it's the most interesting.

"I was once the subject of a documentary where I felt uncomfortable with some of the things I was asked to do. But I can't blame the programme-makers because I lacked the confidence to tell them how I felt."

If her experience with the Sunday Telegraph taught her anything, says Antoniou, it's that you can never guarantee what the outcome of an interview will be.

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