Talking to the Media

First, here are a couple of don'ts:
  • Don't feel pressured to speak to the media. You have the right to speak, if you wish, and also the right not to.
  • Don't feel that you must respond on the spot. If you are asked a question that you are not prepared to answer at that precise moment, you should state (politely) that you need a few minutes to gather the information, or that you need to check a fact or simply that you'll have to call back. And be sure you call back in a timely manner -- usually within the hour!
  • Never, never, never go "off the record." This has come back to haunt many an individual. There's a formal, legally established way in which one makes an off-the-record statement, and most people aren't aware of it. Even if you are, please, please, please heed this advice: If you don't want to see it in print or hear it on TV or the radio -- DON'T SAY IT!!!
  • Never say "no comment." If you can't respond to the question, say why: You don't know the answer, a pending investigation, legal restriction, etc.. When possible say, "What I can tell you is this..."
  • Don't speculate or guess. If you don't know the answer, say so. Refer the reporter to the media relations speciliast, who will locate an appropriate person who can answer the question.
  • Don't share rumors or hearsay. Repeating something you heard someone else (even your supervisor) say, even if it comes from your own office or department, is dangerous. A good response would be, "I don't know the answer to that, but I'll try to find out for you." Then find out the answer and call back.
  • Don't use educationese. Avoid words like "pedagogy" when "teaching" will do. Answer with simple, concise statements. Ask the reporter if he/she understood your answer and explain further if necessary.

And now, some simple things to do:

  • Respond quickly. The media is most always on a tight deadline. If they don't get the information from you, the expert, they'll get it from someone else, someone who may be less knowledgeable. Or you may read the news story the next day with the lethal line in it: "Eastern Washington University was contacted yesterday but refused to respond."
  • Be helpful. This builds credibility and reflects well on Eastern.
  • Be open. You're not going to be able to squelch a story. It is better to respond honestly and stand by your decisions. By misleading a reporter, you destroy in a minute the credibility it takes years to build.
  • Keep it short. Expecially for TV and radio, talk in headlines or 20-second statements. The reporter will cut the lenght of what you say before the story airs, so to avoid confusion, do it yourself.
  • State important facts first. Under deadline, reporters may not review all their notes. Repeat your most important point/points two or three times - that will make sure the message is correct.
  • Stop talking when you've answered the question. This is probably the greatest mistake inexperienced interviewees make, especially with the broadcast media. We all tend to get uncomfortable with silence and keep talking until another question comes. If a reporter is probing an issue which he/she senses there's some reluctance to discuss, he/she will leave some "dead air" after you've responded to a question, hoping something unexpected will be revealed.
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