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When a reporter calls...

  • Call back promptly.
  • Find out what information the reporter is seeking and what information he/she already has obtained.
  • Determine whether you are the most knowledgeable and responsible person to deal with the subject.
  • Find out how the information will be used—whether the reporter wants a simple quote for a short news story or extensive background for a feature story.
  • Buy time to prepare for the interview.
  • Find out what deadline the person has to meet and do your best to give him/her as much time as possible before that deadline.
  • Beware of talking "off the record." Even if the reporter agrees, there are no guarantees.

Media Training

Let the Office of University Communications staff help you prepare for interactions with reporters. Whether you are getting ready for an interview with a newspaper or wire service reporter, or a television or radio correspondent, our professional staff can help you communicate your message.

We can arrange for media training for individuals and small groups. Please contact the media specialist who covers your academic area for more information.

About reporters

Reporters are professionals attempting to communication information in the most interesting and accurate way. Most are generalists who cover anything that is considered worthy of air time or newspaper space. Beat reporters, however, are assigned routinely on a specific subject. After many years covering their beats, some develop a working knowledge in areas such as medicine, science, environmental issues, and business.

Deadlines: Reporters represent the public's right to know and they attempt to be as objective as they can. However, the constant pressure to meet deadlines makes their job extremely difficult. Deadlines force reporters to prepare a story, whether or not they can present both sides.

Radio: Radio reporters work under tight deadlines. Because they are limited to approximately 30-60 seconds to present their stories on-air, they look to experts for lively voice clips of about 15 seconds which describe the "bottom line" of what the issue is and why it is relevant.

During a radio interview, try to sum up your point into succinct sentences. Relax and talk as you would in normal conversation.

Television: Images are the essential ingredient for a TV story, therefore, anticipate questions about the visual aspects of your research—keeping in mind its future applications. TV reporters have limited time in which to present their stories so they simplify information to keep stories to an average length of 90 seconds.

Print: Print reporters work for daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, and wire services. Often, they want a lot of detail because they do not have the benefit of using visual and audio imagery. They rely on vivid description to communicate their stories.

Ground rules

Call back promptly. Reporters often are on a tight deadline, but this doesn't mean that you have to carve out time for a full interview immediately. You should be able to ask for 30 minutes to pull your thoughts together or arrange to call back after you finish teaching your class. And about those deadlines…find out when the reporter is expected to turn in his or her copy and work accordingly.

Ask your own questions. Find out what information the reporter is looking for and what information he or she already has gathered. This will help you determine how well-versed the reporter may or may not already be on the subject and how much detail you should provide in your interview. Also, ask how this information will be used. Is the reporter looking just for a comment on an issue for a news brief? Or, is he or she needing extensive background information for a longer feature story?

You're an expert, but are you the right one? Determine whether you are the most knowledgeable and responsible person to deal with the subject. While good reporters will have done their own research on the issue they are reporting, and will have spent some time locating the expert hey want to speak with, you may discover that you aren't really the best person to give the interview. If you can, suggest another IU expert.

Interview strategy

Buy time to prepare. The reporter may be on a deadline, but you don't have to talk with him or her the second you get the phone call. Arrange to call back at a specific time. This will give you an opportunity to collect your thoughts or finish what you're doing.

Make notes about the points you want to cover. This will help you avoid rambling or wandering off-subject. This is especially important for a television or radio interview as quotes used in this format will be very short, so you need to communicate important information as succinctly as possible. Your notes also can help you bring the reporter back around to the most important information if he or she gets off track.

If this is an interview you are concerned about giving for some reason, contact the media specialist who covers your academic area for advice. You can ask the reporter to do the interview in your office with the media specialist sitting in.

Beware of talking "off the record." You can ask that what you say not be used, but even if a reporter agrees, know that you might still see the information turn up in print.

After you've given an interview, let the media specialist who covers your academic area know, so that he or she can keep an eye out for it to appear in print or broadcast.

Pay attention to what you're wearing if you are giving a television interview. You want to be sure that you are presenting a professional image to the public. Stay away from fussy necklines and prints, and stay away from short skirts. Avoid anything that would take attention away from what you have to say.

Editorial Control

Whether or not you have any editorial control at all will probably be determined by the kind of interview it is. If this is a long, background kind of feature, it would not be uncommon for a reporter to check back in with text to see if he or she has gotten the facts right. However, in a breaking news story or a news brief, don't expect to have final approval, or any at all for that matter. Also, be aware that even if the reporter has given you a courtesy look, the copy editor may make changes at the last minute. And, please know that the reporter most likely does not write headlines or photo captions.

Handling difficult questions and situations

If you are dealing with a controversial topic, contact the media specialist who covers your academic area before you give an interview. He or she can help you come up with talking points that can be distributed to others who may be called upon to answer the same questions. Stick to the talking points and everyone will say the same thing.

Make notes to help you stay on track during the interview. Keep coming back to what it is you want to say, and by all means, don't allow yourself to be pulled into talking about something you don't know about. Take the question back to what you know and what you want to say…"I don't feel qualified to answer that question, but I do know that it is important…."

Avoid saying, "No comment." In nearly all circumstances, it is better to manage a situation by facing it head on and providing the information that you are at liberty to give. "No comment" sounds as if you have something to hide. If you can't really say anything, explain that it would be inappropriate for you to comment, because you don't have all of the facts, and that you are working on pulling that information together. If you don't provide the correct information when it is available, a good reporter will get it from someone else. And then, what gets printed may not be the version you want to see.