Tips on Working with the Media
Faculty & Staff Resources
ESF's Office of Communications is contacted regularly by local, state, and regional reporters seeking expert sources for news and feature stories. We always try to check in advance if individuals have the type of information a reporter seeks. If we refer a reporter to you, the office staff will attempt to contact you before the reporter contacts you.
Some reporters, particularly local reporters, already are familiar with many ESF faculty and their expertise. These individuals may contact you without first speaking with our office.
Here are some important points that will help you when you speak to a media reporter (or to a writer from the Office of Communications):
- Prepare for the interview as much in advance as time permits. Look up any facts which you may not remember clearly. Check in briefly with other researchers (here or at another institution) who may be doing similar work that supports your results or controverts them.
- Decide what is most significant about your research, project, or event. Make a list of the three or four (or more or less) unique or important aspects. Write a brief statement (including these points) about your work and give it to the reporter in advance of the interview.
- Keep it simple. The average newspaper or TV report is aimed at the junior high school level audience, and reporters are instructed to prepare their material accordingly. Newspaper story space is usually limited, and for the electronic media it is timed. The reporter may not be able to go into a lot of explanation about your work. Therefore, it is important to put your information or explanations in non-scientific terms.
- Don’t be embarrassed to check a reporter’s credentials before the interview begins. If a reporter is referred to you by Communications, we generally have (or can use our references to check) some background on him or her. Many science reporters, particularly on the regional and national levels, have significant experience in science writing, and many have coursework or degrees in a scientific discipline in addition to their journalism training. Asking politely and directly for information on a reporter’s background will help you hone your message.
- Say up front what is or is not for publication. If some of the material you are imparting is for background information only, make sure the reporter has a clear understanding of this before you say it. But understand that not everything can be "off the record." If you have reservations about a piece of information, you are better off not talking about it at all.
- Don’t feel obliged to answer every question. If you don’t know the answer, say so. If you can look something up and don’t mind doing it, offer to call the reporter (back) later.
- For the electronic media, take a few minutes to discuss with the reporter before the cameras or the tape begins rolling what questions he or she plans to ask you. Most TV or radio people will do this anyway.
- Most media reporters will not allow sources to review their articles before publication. This is their standard policy, and you should be aware of it. However, many of the better science writers will call to check facts with you once their story is written if deadlines permit.
- The Office of Communications, similarly, has no control over what editors or reporters choose to include or cut from our news releases. We also can not control if or when editors may use our news releases. We work carefully to prepare our news releases, with attention to facts as well as a good story. However, once a news release is mailed out from our office, we have no control over how the print or electronic media use it.
Further information on how to work with the media may be found in The Scientist’s Responsibility for Public Information: A Guide to Effective Communication with the Media, a publication of the National Association of Science Writers. Copies of this booklet have been distributed to Faculty chairs, and two copies are on permanent reserve in the Moon Library. The office has a limited number of additional copies available for distribution; call if you would like a personal copy.