(Keep It Careful and Intelligent):
Researchers' Advice About Journalists
FairerScience.org asked researchers with media experience what advice they would give to other researchers to help them better communicate with the media. Here is what they had to say.
Keep It Careful
Knowing the journalist's perspective can make a difference. Do a web search on the journalist and the publication before the interview to learn more about their interests and points of view.
It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Before you agree to do a live interview on radio or TV, try to watch or listen to the show. Don't go on a show unless you feel that you can handle the interviewer and get your points across. Be prepared to answer people who are critical of your work.
Different TV and radio formats require different responses. If you are going to be on a live TV or radio show, check the format in advance. If it is a debate or a "panel" with people who have different views and you are not good at confrontation, you probably shouldn't do it.
Off the record sometimes isn't. Don't say anything to a journalist that you aren't prepared to have made public.
Journalists often do follow up on suggestions of other people to whom they should speak. Before referring a journalist to other researchers, check with them first to see if it is ok. If you aren't able to do that, let the researchers know as soon as possible that the journalist may be contacting them.
On TV, appearance matters. If you have questions about what to wear consult with the production staff. Avoid clothing that is all black, all white, shiny or has a busy design.
People like it (and you) if you remember their names. Write down the journalist's name so you get it right. If you are doing talk radio, write down each caller's name so that you can use their name in your response.
Keep It Intelligent
You are in charge of what you say. Decide in advance about what you are willing and what you are NOT willing to talk about in the interview and stick with it.
Practice makes perfect. Writing down your main points and practicing your responses to different questions with friends can help ensure that your message gets across.
Sound bites are reusable. When you find a phrase or a sound bite that works don't be afraid to use it again and again.
Accuracy, yours and theirs, is key to credibility. Don't make claims you can't back up. If you are concerned about their understanding of what you are saying, offer to check the resulting article for accuracy. If you do review the article, remember you're reviewing for accuracy not for point of view.
Within reason, you can choose the time to be interviewed. When you pick up the phone and it's a journalist, it is not necessary (or wise) do the interview right then. Schedule a time to call them back, even it is only ten minutes later, prepare what you want to say, and call back.
Everyone can use a little background information. Even though most journalists won't quote from articles; if you have additional information on the topic, offer to send it to the journalist and be willing to answer follow-up questions.
© 2006, Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc. All Rights Reserved