Media Guide: Press Tips
THE WARM UP: Prepare to be Eloquent and Informative
Determine your objective before the interview. What do you want to say?
Assume any question is fair game, and decide ahead of time how you will handle the controversial ones. List questions you would not want to be asked, and develop brief answers. Do the same for questions you do want to be asked, and make sure those points come across, even if the question isn't posed. If you believe a question is out of line or has little to do with the subject, say so, and move on. Don't dwell on a question you don't want to answer.
Find out who else the reporter intends to interview. If you discover the reporter has already interviewed someone, contact that person to hear what kinds of questions and topics came up. Also, don't hesitate to suggest other individuals the reporter might contact for more complete information.
As an interviewee, you have the right to know who is interviewing you and for what media outlet, the general content of the story and what angle the reporter is working, if you are being tape recorded, and if others will be interviewed, separately, or in the case of radio or television, as a panel.
You have the right to have your statements published without distortion. Remember, this includes ums, ahs, slander and slang. If you don't want to sound like "uhh, well, ya know," speak in clear and concise English. Your words may be edited, however. Long phrases may be shortened for length or time, so being concise is important.
As an interviewee, you have control over the place, length, type and time of the interview and what is tape recorded. If a radio journalist calls you on the phone, always ask if you're being recorded. You may also tape record the interview yourself, but you must tell the reporter he/she is on tape, as well.
Newspaper reporters may also call you "cold" and begin asking questions. Be upfront and ask: "Is this the interview now or did you want to set something up?" (Also see below, "If a reporter's call catches you unprepared...)
Ask ahead if a journalist is planning photos with the piece, so you won't be caught off-guard when he or she pulls out a camera.
If a television station asks for an interview, assume it will be on camera. It may sound silly, but we've had TV crews call ahead, show up and be shooed away because the person didn't realize the interview would be on camera.
THE PERFORMANCE: Speaking for the record
Assume anything you say to a reporter (whether in the middle of an interview or the middle of a grocery store) is "on the record," unless you specifically state that it is "off the record." To avoid any confusion, however, simply never say anything to a reporter you wouldn't want to see in print or on the local news.
Talk from the viewpoint of the public's interest. How is this new research applicable to the "real world?" How is this new legislation going to affect our friends and families? Also work the local angle when something happens nationally. "What can parents in the Seacoast do to protect their children from Internet predators?" This may be a question for a UNH faculty expert.
State the most important points you want to make first, and return to that point toward the end of the interview.
Keep comments short and to the point. Don't ramble on with narratives, anecdotes and extraneous fluff. You will lose the attention of the reporter.
The "less is more" technique especially applies to broadcast sound bites. Expert comments on news broadcasts are seldom longer than one or two phrases, so try to keep your comments short and clear -- limit each answer to about 20 seconds. You can practice this by timing yourself to see how much you can pack into a sound bite.
Viewers and listeners are more likely to remember your point if it is delivered in a succinct message. Newspapers have the luxury of the permanent printed word, TV and radio broadcasts have a shorter shelf life.
Use language everybody understands. Save the academic jargon for professional journals.
Feel free to have someone from Media Relations, or a colleague, sit in with you during the interview. It could reduce the tension or intimidation of being in a room or broadcast studio with a reporter.
If you receive a call from the press, respond promptly. If you need to check information and get back to a reporter, find out the reporter's deadline. If you can't respond that same day (even within the next couple hours) let the reporter know. It's better to at least return the call, than to have copy read "Calls to Professor X or VP so-and-so was not returned."
If a reporter's call catches you unprepared, tell them you'd like to call back either when you're not "tied up" or when you had a chance to get the information they want. Even if you have the facts and the time, it might be beneficial to take a moment to prepare yourself or run your thoughts by a colleague or someone at Media Relations.
Don't ask the reporter to send you a copy of the story before it is printed. Very few will. And most will be offended that you asked. You're not their editor.
A more amicable approach might be to ask them to read back your quotes, to ensure you got your point across.
THE CHALLENGE: Avoiding the iron fist
Most reporters are competent individuals aiming to report an unbiased and interesting story. Packaged neatly with graphics, photos and video, this sounds like a straight forward task -- until you or your institution is tangled in controversy. A skilled reporter will ask the tough questions and often use some of the following techniques to keep you talking:
The pregnant pause: You answer the question but the reporter remains silent, keeping pen to paper or the camera rolling. Never keep talking to fill the vacuum. Instead say, "Does that answer your question?"
The hypothetical situation: The reporter asks, "How would you respond if trustees decided employees would sell candy bars to keep the cost of tuition down?"
Don't respond to iffy hypotheticals; stick to the facts available. You may ignite a new controversy or embarrass yourself. Simply say, "I'd rather not respond to something that hasn't happened."
The ringer: "So now that you've given the party (UNH, AAUP, Faculty Senate) line, what do you think?" As a spokesperson or leader for any group, you should never answer this question if your opinion differs from the official association position. (Unless, of course, you'd like to lose that leadership role.)
The mystery witness: A reporter might begin a question with "Some people say…" or "I hear that…" You say, "Who said that? I wasn't aware of anyone making that statement." You risk getting into a "he said, she said" battle if you comment on rumors.
The mind-reader: An interviewer might ask you to speculate on someone else's reaction. Don't go that route. You wouldn't want someone putting words in your mouth.
Reporter: "How do you think the president will react to your proposal for hall monitors in academic buildings? Response: "I don't know. You'll have to ask him/her."
The trouble-maker: More aggressive reporters may try to anger you by throwing out rumors or lies, hoping to touch a nerve and elicit a juicy quote. Always keep your composure, and never argue with someone who has barrels of ink or reels of video in his or her defense.
When you receive a call from a reporter, please notify UNH Media Relations as soon as possible. Media relations officers are assigned to each college. You can either contact your media relations officer or the director of Media Relations.
Don't nitpick over minor details or the angle of a story. But do alert Media Relations if there are factual errors in the story.
Unless the broadcast or publication is unavailable locally, don't ask for a copy or tape. Find out when the story is running, and set your VCR or pick up a paper. Media Relations may also be able to locate a copy for you through its clipping service.