Be prepared for reporters calling

A call from the media can be a good experience--if you are mentally prepared.

Maybe you've just had a research paper published. Or you've recently given a presentation on a hot topic at a public meeting. You may be getting some attention from a reporter or two, wanting to know more. Rather than precipitating a pounding headache, a call from the media can be a good experience--if you are mentally prepared.

Tips when talking to a reporter

Below are some tips to help you give a clearer and more effective interview. These suggestions come in part from scientists who have worn reporters' shoes, as part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Fellows Program in 2002.

  • Put together some key points ahead of time. Just like writing a paper or giving a speach, it will be easier to talk to a reporter if you have some ideas about what you want to say.
  • Try to explain things to a reporter as you would with friends and family--respect their intelligence, but be basic. Remember, reporters aren't in your discipline.
  • Make it short and simple. Try to boil the scope and significance of your work into a few clear sentences, then elaborate from there. Reporters have very little space (a few column inches or 30 seconds on the radio or TV) to transmit a lot of information. Avoid a “PowerPoint” presentation.
  • Use analogies and images when talking about your work and its relevance. Vivid language will give the reporter something to quote and her or his readers a way of grasping a new concept.
  • Share good photos and graphics. A good picture will help a reporter understand your work. Photos draw readers into an article like nothing else.
  • Respond to a reporter's call as soon as you can. Reporters have short deadlines. If they call you in the morning, their deadline might be that afternoon.
  • Keep in mind that a reporter is not your marketing agent. A good reporter may call other sources for other perspectives too.
  • Put yourself in a reporter's shoes. Be kind if a reporter makes a mistake. A good reporter wants to be as accurate as possible. Encourage him or her to call you back for clarification. You might try asking the reporter to reiterate what you have said, before your interview has ended. Offer to review anything he or she might be unsure of, via e-mail or phone.
  • Avoid going on vacation the week after you publish an important paper or give a newsworthy presentation. Reporters may lose interest quickly if you aren't available.