Tips on Working With the News Media

Preparing for an Interview
  • Understand that reporters are usually working on a deadline. Call back right away. When a reporter calls you, always find out what kind of deadline he or she is facing.

  • Ask for the reporter's name and the media organization for which he or she is reporting. If the person or news outlet is unfamiliar to you, you may want to vet them with your media relations staff.

  • When a reporter calls requesting an interview, you have a right to ask the subject of the interview and some sample questions. If you need time to collect your thoughts and the reporter's deadline allows, offer to call back later at a specific time -- and follow through.

  • Don't let yourself be ambushed by the media. If a reporter shows up in your office or calls at a time when you are unprepared, reschedule the interview for a time when you feel comfortable.

  • Think of two to three main points you would like to make about your subject. Gather facts, figures and anecdotes to support your points. Anticipate questions the reporter might ask and have responses ready.

  • Have printed materials to support your information whenever possible in order to help the reporter minimize errors. If time allows, offer to fax or mail the reporter printed information in advance of the interview.

  • Be aware that reporters' schedules are determined by the "breaking" news of the day. Do not be offended if an interview gets canceled or rescheduled because a more urgent story arises.

During the Interview
  • If you are being interviewed by phone, the reporter is required to tell you when you are being recorded. If you're not certain, you should ask.

  • Begin at a basic level. Avoid academic or technical jargon; explain special terms if you must use them.

  • Be brief! We live in the age of the sound bite. Television and radio stories may use only a 10-30 second cut. The shorter your comments, the less likely they are to be edited. Even print reporters are looking for short, snappy quotes.

  • There are five C's to success: Speak with conviction in a conversational manner while retaining your composure. Be confident. Remember that you are the expert. Be colorful -- tell stories and anecdotes that illustrate your point. Give examples.

  • Stick to your main points and do not allow yourself to get drawn too far off on tangents. Most people make the mistake of talking too much. Repeat your points if necessary to get back on track.

  • Speak in complete thoughts. The reporter's question may be edited out and your response should stand on its own.

  • Don't overestimate a reporter's knowledge of your subject. When a reporter bases a question on information you believe is incorrect, do not hesitate to set the record straight. Offer background information where necessary.

  • If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification rather than talking around it. If you do not have the answer, say so. Tell the reporter where to find the information, if possible.

  • Never say, "No comment." Instead, if you cannot or do not choose to answer, explain briefly. For example, "It is our policy not to discuss lawsuits currently in litigation" or "I can't answer that because I haven't seen the research paper you are referring to."

  • Avoid saying things "off the record." Reporters may or may not honor this, and it annoys them. If you don't want to hear it on the evening news, you had better not say it.

  • Be honest. Don't try to conceal negative information; rather, let your interviewer know what you are doing to solve a problem.

Tips for Broadcast Media
  • For television interviews, plan to wear solid-color clothing. Stripes, plaids or other designs can cause problems with color TV pictures. Avoid large, jangling or reflective jewelry.

  • Look in a mirror, if possible, just before going on camera. The reporter may not tell you that your collar is folded over or your hair is out of place.

  • Choose a location where you can screen out extraneous noises. Hold your calls and turn off your computer, if possible. Avoid rooms with loud background hums from air conditioning or heating units.

  • Find out in advance whether the interview is edited or "live." If you agree to a live interview, be sure you are comfortable thinking on your feet and responding off the cuff.

  • In edited interviews, do not answer questions too quickly; pause briefly before answering. This helps the reporter get a "clean" sound bite and also has the added benefit of allowing you time to think out your answer.

  • In edited interviews, it's O.K. to stop and start over again if you don't like the way you worded your answer.

  • In a TV interview, look at the reporter and not the camera. The only exception is in a satellite interview, when the reporter or anchor may not be on location. If you're uncertain where to look, ask.

  • Stay stationary in front of radio or TV microphones and avoid sitting in a chair that rocks or spins. Wandering around or rocking in your chair can cause the recorded volume to rise and fall.

  • Be aware of and avoid nervous habits such as pen tapping that can interfere with the interview.

After the Interview
  • Tell the reporter how you wish to be identified. Otherwise you may be dismayed to find yourself as "historian Janet Wilson" with no mention of your institution.

  • In most instances you will not have the opportunity to check over the reporter's story before it appears. However, you can ask questions at the end of an interview to test for comprehension. For example, you might inquire, "What do you think is the main story angle here?"

  • You may want to ask when a story will appear. The reporter may not have an answer, but if he does he'll be happy to tell you.

  • If you feel after reflecting on an interview that you misspoke or gave incorrect information, call the reporter as soon as possible and let her know. Similarly, you can call with additional information if you forgot to make an important point.

  • Give positive feedback to reporters, if merited, after a story appears. Like the rest of us, they usually hear only complaints and rarely get a call or note to say they've done a good job.

  • If an error appears, let the reporter know right away. Sometimes a correction can be printed or aired. You also will want to prevent the incorrect information from being used as background for future stories.

  • If you are unhappy with a story, share your concerns with the reporter first. Contacting his or her editor is a last resort.

  • For radio and TV stories, obtain a tape of the final broadcast if possible and critique your own performance, looking for ways you might improve in the future.