UNIVERSITY AND MEDIA RELATIONS
 
 
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HANDLING MEDIA INTERVIEWS - A Few Tips
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PREPARATION FOR NEWS INTERVIEWS

When a news reporter calls requesting an interview, it is perfectly OK to ask these questions:
  • How did you come to call me?
  • Who else is being interviewed?
  • What is your deadline?
  • How much time will you need to talk with me?
  • Do you need anything besides an interview -- such as photos, cover video inside a classroom, lab or clinic?
  • What about patient interviews? (Get them before your interview.)

After the reporter has answered these questions, promise to call back. This will buy you time to decide if you want to do the interview, get clearance to do it and collect your thoughts.

Decide on three messages that you believe are most important to public understanding of your position. Practice delivering these messages in a clear, succinct way.

Try incorporating the following elements to covey your points effectively:

Remember that for the audience, the bottom line is “What’s in it for me?” or “How does this impact me?”  Make sure the audience can relate to your message.

Think of several quotable statements before the interview that emphasize your key points. This helps ensure that the message(s) you want to communicate actually make it into the news story.

Talk to the reporter the way you would talk to a neighbor. Try to create “word pictures.” Don’t get bogged down with statistics or technical language. They can easily be misunderstood and can detract from your message.

Assume the reporter is out to do a fair, objective story. To that end, write down the names and phone numbers of one or two other people the reporter could interview and offer the list at the interview. If you have a good background article on the subject, offer it to the reporter, too – such helpfulness won’t be forgotten.

Anticipate difficult questions, and have positive answers ready.

Don’t allow reporters’ to intimidate you. Remember that YOU are their expert!

If there is any doubt about not getting it right, offer the reporter a business card so that your name and affiliation appear correctly.

CONDUCTING THE INTERVIEW

I. Ascertain what the reporters already know and whom else they talked with to prepare for the interview. This will give you some idea of their mental context for the story.

II.  SHORT answers are almost always better than LONG ones.  Use complete, direct sentences. Your remarks will be subject to less editing.

III.  If the interviewer’s questions don’t give you a chance to convey your message, respond briefly to the question asked and then “bridge” to your message with a phrase like, “I’d also like to point out,” or “Another point I might mention here…”

IV.  Don’t ever speak “off the record” unless you have a very solid relationship with the reporter. Anything you say could still end up in print or on the air.

V.  You may want to ask permission to review the story for accuracy. Although most news organizations will refuse to let a source see the article (or television piece) before it is published, reporters should not mind reading (or e-mailing) back to you portions of the story to make sure they are accurate.

VI.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and offer to find out. Then check it promptly, and call the reporter back before deadline. Be truthful. Anything less undermines your credibility and that of your institution.

VII.  Never say “no comment.” That’s like waving a red cape in front of a bull.  Good reporters will look elsewhere for information you can’t or don’t provide. Even a general statement is better than none at all. If you can’t give an answer, explain why.

VIII.  Treat reporters equally. You may naturally develop relationships with “favorite” reporters that are mutually beneficial. But refusing to speak to other reporters will create resentment that can damage your credibility -- and your institution’s.

IX.  Don’t answer hypothetical questions. Questions that begin with “what if” or “let’s suppose” might land you in hot water. Instead, respond positively about the way you’ve handled actual situations.

X.  Hold your incoming telephone calls until the interview is over. Phone calls interrupt the “flow” of the interview and provide a distraction you don’t need. They also might reveal information to the reporter, both about the substance and tone of the phone conversation itself.

XI.  The interview isn’t over until it’s over. Even after the reporter has snapped shut the notebook, he’s still listening to everything you’re saying. Anything you say might be used in the story.

TIPS FOR TELEVISION INTERVIEWS

Ask before the interview whether it will air in its entirety or will be edited. Either way, proceed as if it were “LIVE” since everything will usually be on tape anyway. Then—

I.  Look open, relaxed and responsive.  Communications studies show that in television, the impression you create outweighs the message you deliver.

II.  Look at the reporter, usually – NOT the camera. Maintain good eye Contact. Looking away can make you look uncertain and nervous. It also distracts the TV viewers from what you’re saying.

III.  Speak at your normal voice level in a comfortable, conversational tone.  Avoid sitting in a chair that swivels. If you can’t avoid that, plant your feet on the floor in a way that will prevent you from inadvertently turning the chair. Sit fairly erect, but leaning slightly forward to help you look attentive and eager to talk. Pressing the small of your back firmly against the chair centers your energy.

IV.  Make sure you look correct.  Take a minute beforehand to straighten hair and clothing. Ask for a mirror, or – better yet -- bring a small
mirror and hair brush with you. Use a handkerchief or suitable blotter to wipe the “shine” from your face.

V.  Sitting on the back of your suit coat, jacket or lab coat will prevent wriggling at the shoulders.  Although most camera shots are from the chest up, MEN should make sure socks cover their calves when legs are crossed, and WOMEN should be aware of their skirt length.

VI.  Avoid photo-gray glasses, jangling jewelry and ties or scarves with “noisy” visual patterns such as herringbone, etc.  A dark blue suit or red dress looks good in general, but if you know the background of a TV studio set beforehand, avoid wearing a color that will make you blend into the background (blue on blue, gray on gray etc.).

VII.  Make your point right away when responding to a question, even if it isn’t directly responsive to the question. Then back it up with facts.

VIII.  Use audience-friendly language. Reporters likely will not air any response that contains jargon or technical words that need further explanation.

IX.  Unless the story is controversial, reporters generally want you to look good. If you aren’t satisfied with your interview responses, it’s okay to ask the reporter to allow you to re-try to answer his/her questions.

X.  Remember that TV photographers usually shoot additional footage after the actual interview has concluded. Be sure to maintain the same overall facial expressions, gestures and posture as during the interview – you don’t know how the story will be edited.

[Prepared by Office of University and Media Relations]

 

 
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