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MEET THE MEDIA
During the interview
Get your messages across
Have we said that before? Here it is again. Come to an interview prepared with your messages and find opportunities to get them across without ignoring the reporters questions. Take the initiative. You are the expert. You know what is important to tell the public – so tell them.
Be informative, not conversational
News interviews are exchanges of information. You are the source of that information; the reporter represents the public. Do not feel obligated to maintain the social rules of conduct that guide conversations. Beware of the reporter who remains silent, encouraging you to ramble or dilute your original message. Its human nature to want to fill those lulls with conversation. Dont.
Reporters generally dont want lengthy, drawn-out explanations. Theyre looking for quotable quotes – a punchy line that will fill three lines of newsprint or 20 seconds of air time. Use your 20 seconds to get your message across – theres much more likelihood it will be used. Knowing what you want to say in advance will go a long way in simplifying your answers. Forty-five seconds is about the maximum response time for television and other media as well, unless the reporter truly wants a complete understanding of, for example, neutrino physics – in which case you may have 90 seconds.
Dont go off the record
There is no such thing as off the record. An off-the-record comment may not be attributed to you directly, but the reporter often will use the information to confirm a story with other sources. If you dont want something to appear in print, dont say it.
Know your role
When you are conducting an interview, understand your role. If you are serving as a spokesperson for the university or in some instances as spokesperson for a given committee or organization remember: reporters will not distinguish between personal opinion and the universitys position and neither will the public. Answer questions appropriately. If you dont know the universitys position on a particular issue, find out; dont speculate.
If you are providing commentary, opinion or perspective for a news story, and have not been designated as a spokesperson for the university, make certain reporters understand you are offering your own views as a scholar, researcher or expert in a field.
Separating the university from personal advocacy
Public employees are prohibited from using their office to advocate political causes. If you are involved in a political campaign, be sure to separate your university and private duties. You may not, for example, use your office letterhead to write a letter urging a vote for or against a particular candidate or ballot measure. You can, however, give reasons why the person or cause would benefit or harm the institution. However, be certain you have clearly identified any offered opinion as your own and not a position given on behalf of the university. Additional latitude may be allowed when the UC Board of Regents has taken a stand on an issue. If you have questions regarding these regulations, University Communications can assist you in getting them answered.
Dont use jargon
Avoid using terms or acronyms that cant be quoted without explanation.
Avoid bureaucratic language: It is clear that much additional work will be required before we have a complete understanding of the issue. Instead, say, Were working on it.
Tell the truth
The truth may hurt, but lies are deadly. You probably will get caught, and reporters dont forget sources who have burned them. Give a direct answer when asked a direct question, even if the answer is No, I dont know or Im sorry, I cant answer that question. You will come across as an honest, forthright person.
These are reporters, not physicists or physicians. You may have to begin at the beginning to help them understand an issue.
Dont lose your temper
Sometimes reporters are intentionally rude to elicit a charged response. Dont fall into the trap. Respond politely, in control at all times. Dont get into arguments – your angry comments may be reported without any mention of the provocation.
Its an interview, not an interrogation. Establish rapport with the reporter.
Dont answer a question with a question
The reporters asks, What do you think about affirmative action? Dont say, What do you mean by affirmative action? Or, What do you think about it? Such responses come across as evasive, pejorative or hostile.
Dont say No comment or I can neither confirm nor deny. The public views this as: I know but I wont say. Instead, tell the reporter that you are unable to comment and, if possible, why. If a reporter asks about a document that is in draft form, for example, tell the reporter: Im sorry, this is a working draft, and Ill be able to comment as soon as it becomes public. Offer to let the reporter know when the document is available.
Dont answer when you shouldnt
If you know the answer to a question but cant say, dont hesitate to refer the reporter elsewhere – to University Communications if youre unsure where that appropriate elsewhere might be. Dont forget to let other offices know when you have referred a reporter.
If you dont know the answer to a question, say so. And be sure you offer to either find the answer or find someone else who knows. Dont guess, thinking the reporter will check elsewhere. Theres a good chance your misinformation will appear in print.
Its okay to make a mistake
The tape is rolling and you realize youve made a mistake. Or, more likely, you suddenly find you have no idea what youre saying. Stop. Say, Im sorry, I havent answered your question very well. Let me back up. The reporter usually will prefer your new, crisp response.
Talk from the publics point of view
Remember that you are talking through the reporter to the public. How does what you are talking about affect individuals in the community? How does it affect their childrens education? Say it in terms readers and viewers can relate to. If, for example, there was a toxic spill on campus, the public wouldnt care much how quickly it was cleaned up or how many workers dedicated themselves to the effort. The public wants to know whether their health is in danger.
Reporters love facts and figures that will lend credibility to their stories or make certain points. But dont exaggerate facts by using superlatives that make things sound bigger and better than they are.
Be prepared to repeat yourself
Reporters may repeat their question because your answer was too long, too complex, they didnt understand you, or theyre simply trying to get a more pithy response. Welcome the question as another opportunity to state your message, perhaps more clearly.
Youre the expert. You have a message to deliver. Recognize that reporters in fact may be somewhat intimated by your expertise or position. Put them at ease.
Respect the reporters deadline
Find out their deadlines and return calls promptly. Showing respect for deadlines will go a long way toward building positive media relations. If you cant return a reporters call, please contact University Communications to assist you.
Dont be defensive
Make positive statements instead of denying or refuting comments from others. State your message; let others speak for themselves.
Be aware of when you are being taped
In broadcast situations, such as in the studio or when talking to a radio reporter, it is wise to assume that everything you say is being recorded.
Use anecdotes, humor
Use examples to illustrate your points. What will sell a story about, say, graduate fellowships, are not statistics but human interest about real students with real accomplishments. Use humor, an interesting quote. Television in particular is show business so entertain when appropriate.
Avoid reading from prepared statements
This is especially true when you are on camera. You are the expert and ought to know what you want to say without a script.
Never ask a reporter to preview the story
Reporters generally never let sources review stories, though they often check back for scientific details. Remember, its their job to gather the facts and tell the story accurately – to suggest they cant do so without your input insults their professionalism. Besides, they wont let you, so theres little point in asking. Its better to listen carefully during an interview to be aware of when a reporter may not understand something. Remember that the likelihood of your being misquoted is reduced substantially if you speak briefly and clearly.
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Meet the Media
Rules for success
When a reporter calls
During the interview
In an emergency
After the interview