The following are some guidelines to keep in mind when you go into
- Make it clear at the outset whether you're speaking for yourself
or on behalf of the university. Provide your full name and title.
- Present your main points and conclusions first. This introduces
the reporter to the ideas you wish to present and helps focus
the interview. If complex information is being dealt with, sum
up at the end of the interview. A succinct statement, written
in advance, is an excellent way to ensure full understanding,
particularly for complex technical stories.
- State and explain your viewpoint clearly and frequently throughout
the interview. When you move to more important points, repeat
the main points to avoid any misunderstanding.
- When asked your opinion on items in the news, avoid making ad
hominem comments. You can say that a government report reaches
faulty conclusions without criticizing the author and belittling
his research techniques and abilities. Emphasize that your research
in the area has led you to different conclusions, rather than
bluntly contradicting the government experts.
- Respond to parts of questions, or rephrase them, so that you
minimize the risk of misinterpretation.
- Try to use uncomplicated language, avoiding jargon, acronyms,
and difficult terms. Remember that technical terms are a foreign
language to the non-expert. If you use them they will have to
be translated by the reporter, and you may not be pleased with
- Avoid words like disaster, breakthrough or stupid. They invite
the reporter to treat the story in a sensational way.
- Be prepared for questions about the relevance of the story and
its ethical, legal, economic or political implications.
- Take the time to collect your thoughts before answering difficult
questions. If necessary, tell the reporter you would like time
to consider the question and get back to him after the interview.
Then prepare a written answer, telephone the reporter and dictate
your response to him.
- If you are asked a question that you really don't wish to answer,
say so and stand by your decision. However, be prepared for the
reporter to press you on the point from several different angles
and at different times during the discussion. You are always better
off deflecting a question (see above), when the interview is finished.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, be honest and admit
it. If the information is important to the story, you can offer
to get it for the reporter when the interview is finished.
- Only make statements you can support with facts.
- Use one or two examples to explain your position, rather than
enumerating a list of supporting facts. Sacrifice comprehensiveness
for simplicity and force. After all, the average length of a newspaper
story is about 400 words, while radio for television reports can
be as brief as 30 seconds.
- If relevant, have copies of books, reports or speeches available
for the reporter.
Published in HotLink Number 1, Fall 1996, this article
was reprinted with permission from the Simon Fraser University World
Wide Web site at: http://www.sfu.ca/mediapr/.
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