A Journalist’s Guide to Getting Quoted Accurately

Sound bites are a staple of modern media because they capture an audience’s attention in ten words or less. If you get interviewed a lot, you’ve probably been misquoted or taken out of context.

But don’t worry, because I’ve got eight great ways to make sure that never happens again. Next time a journalist asks for an interview, you’ll know what sound bites to use.

“I will shirtfront* Vladimir Putin.”

*shirtfront: (in Australian Rules) charge into the chest of (an opponent), typically so as to knock them to the ground. Dictionary.com 

Remember that line? I bet you do. I bet you can name who said and why they said it. Even if politics makes you roll your eyes, you would have seen this around.

This quote came from then-prime minister Tony Abbott, who was talking about the Russian rebels alleged involvement in the MH17 Malaysian Airlines tragedy in 2014.

So why did this throw-away sentence dominate international headlines?

Because media loves a good sound bite.

What’s a sound bite?

Media sound bites are short sentences or phrases. They are to the point and explain someone’s position on a matter. They are catchy, memorable, and sometimes irreverent.

They also need to be ‘cuttable’; that is, be lifted as is and intact from the surrounding context. That’s where it gets tricky.

CEOs get sound bited a lot. Whenever I run media training sessions, it’s the CEOs that frequently comment how they were misrepresented by journalists.

I know what it’s like to be under pressure to deliver the news as well as get an audience’s attention quickly. That’s why when you’re in an interview, you need to make sure to include the essence of your story in a short, head-turning quote.

If you leave it up to the journalist to decide the sound bite, you will likely hear something that’s cringe-worthy, or isn’t in line with your position.

But it’s possible to take control of what sound bites you give. In fact, it’s easy

I’ve made a list of eight ways to create great sound bites that show your position and make it easy for journalists to write your story.

How to create a sound bite

  1. The Rule of Three
    Example: “All Australians deserve a fair go, a fair court system and fair representation.”
    There is something very satisfying about hearing three of something, so use this method when you want to cement your stance
  2. The Rhetorical Question
    Example: “Why do politicians treat the very people who voted for them, like idiots?” (A strongly held view by most of the Australian public.)
    Rhetorical questions are about creating discussion, so rather than make a statement like ‘Politicians treat their voters like idiots’, use this method to invite debate.
  3. The Contradictory Statement
    Example: “We live in a free country with an unfair court system.”
    Contradictions are great to get people thinking as they challenge stereotypes or bring to light an underlying issue.
  4. The Emphatic Announcement
    Example: “Never, never, no. Not on my watch.” (A union boss or CEO standing their ground.)
    Emphatic appeals are about drawing a line in the sand, and as you can see from this example, they can go hand-in-hand with the rule of three.
  5. The Superlative Approach
    Example: “This is the greatest travesty of justice this country has ever seen.” (Barnaby Joyce in most interviews.)
    Using the ‘-est’ of something creates an extreme of something and invites the audience to rally and make it less so.
  6. The Celebrity Comparison
    Example: “This might be OK for the Kardashians, but my children deserve better.” (An appeal for enhanced cyber security and online privacy for teenagers.)
    Because celebrities and their actions are regularly in the public eye, they are an easy reference to make when appealing for change.
  7. The Heartstring Appeal
    Example: “The elderly will die needlessly unless the privatisation of aged care is more heavily regulated.” (An emotive argument against profit focused aged care centres.)
    Emotionally charged statements can be particularly useful when talking about vulnerable members of the public.
  8. The Stereotype Flip
    Example: “Mosques are havens for charity.” (The Islamic Council of Victoria raising money for the Good Friday appeal.)
    Stereotyping is still an issue surrounding many different groups, so where equality or acceptance is needed, flipping helps to confront the stereotype.

How to plan your sound bite

Crafting quality sound bites is about planning and rehearsing out loud. Next time you get asked for an interview, here’s what you need to do to get your sound bites ready:

    • Brainstorm about 20 options that illustrate your position
    • Pick two or three that you’re most comfortable with and can say with conviction
    • Practice weaving the sound bites into your answers, so you can hear how they sound in context

Once you put this together, you are ready to give journalists exactly what they need.

Heard some great sound bites?

Tell us below in the comments section.

Want to get your staff sound bite-ready?

We provide training led by experienced journalist Tony Nicholls, who has covered international stories and worked for many of Australia’s major news networks. Find out more about the types of training we offer here: https://goodtalent.com.au/media-training/

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.


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