Media Interview Tips
If you are contacted by a reporter, remember that you are speaking as a representative of the university. What you say and how you act will reflect upon this institution. If you have questions or would like assistance, the KU News Service is available to help. Contact (785) 864-8858 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why Talk to the Media?
- Talking to the media is talking to the public. KU is a public institution. Our funding depends on a public understanding of what it is we do.
- We're in the education business.
- News is 4 to 6 times more believable or more credible than advertising. It is an effective means to deliver a message to the public.
- Return phone calls from reporters promptly. Reporters need a response in minutes, not hours or days. It's the nature of their business.
- Find out the details. Ask for the reporter's name, publication or broadcast station and phone number. Ask what the reporter's story is and how you can help her. What is her deadline?
- Find out if you are the right person to be interviewed. Are you the appropriate spokesperson? If you're not, refer the reporter to another faculty expert or administrator, or to the KU News Service, (785) 864-8858.
- Prepare for the interview. Anticipate questions, especially the hard ones. What are your key messages? If you feel unprepared when a reporter calls, tell the reporter you will call back in 15 minutes or so. Collect your thoughts and then call. If you want to consult with the KU News Service in the interim, please give us a call.
- Encourage a person-to-person interview. Try to see the reporter in person rather than talking over the phone. Distance and deadlines sometimes make this impossible, and it may take more of your time, but a face-to-face interview is always preferable to a phone interview.
- Be simple, to the point and brief: Short, simple answers are better than long answers (less chance of being misquoted). Avoid technical terms or jargon. Note: Eight seconds is the average length of a TV sound bite.
- Repeat yourself. Try saying your main point in more than one way. Ask to have your words played back to you, and change your wording if you are dissatisfied with what you have already said.
- Make eye contact with the reporter.
- Be careful. Everything said within earshot of a reporter is game for the story. If a microphone is attached to your lapel or shirt pocket, assume it is recording from the instant you put it on until the instant you take it off.
- Don't accept a reporter's facts or characterizations of others. Always state the facts in your own terms.
- Don't say "off the record." Such a thing doesn't exist.
- Don't say "no comment." You appear to be hiding something or evading the question. Explain why you cannot comment.
- Don't answer hypotheticals.
- Don't be afraid to say you don't know the answer to the question.
- Don't be afraid to say you need to verify the facts and call back.
- Don't be compelled to say more than you need to. An interview is not a conversation.
- Don't allow yourself to be provoked.
- Don't lie or mislead.
- Don't joke.
- Don't ask to see the story before it's published. It conflicts with journalistic ethics and professionalism. If you are concerned, ask the reporter to read back your quotes or read to you only your quotes when the story has been written. If you fear a point has not been understood, ask the reporter to review the story "one more time." Invite the reporter to call you back for further clarification or additional information if needed.
- Don't fire off a letter to the editor if you're unhappy with the story. Call the KU News Service first. We can help.
- Don't call the editor or publisher. If you're misquoted, contact the reporter, not the editor. But don't overreact, especially if the error is minor or not quite the choice of words you would have used.
Television Interview Tips
- Take the time to look in the mirror. Straighten your hair, tie or scarf. You don't want viewers to be distracted by a crooked tie and miss hearing your words.
- Dark clothes look best on TV. Blue shirts look better than white. Avoid checkered or striped patterns.
- Remember that you are representing KU. Don't wear clothes with the insignia of another organization or university.
- Note whether the backdrop is appropriate.
- Talk with the reporter about the interview before it starts. Find out what the questions will be so you can prepare your response.
- Sit if possible; don't stand.
- Look at the reporter, not into the camera.
- Talk clearly in short phrases. Try not to talk too fast.
- Don't repeat a reporter's negative terms or phrasing. You don't want that to be the clip that shows up on TV.
- If a reporter asks a negative question, you don't have to answer it.
- If you are asked to "chat" while the cameraman shoots "B" roll (non-interview footage, cutaway shots, etc.), be sure your body language and comments are appropriate.