The following tips will help you conduct effective interviews. Participating in media interviews enables you to promote Catholic University and to share your research with readers and viewers.
Respond quickly to media requests, whether they come directly from reporters or from the Division of University Communications, to help journalists meet their deadlines. Even if you don't have time for an interview, it's important to let reporters know quickly so they can move on to their next potential source. The more responsive you are, the more likely journalists are to think of Catholic University as a useful resource for future inquiries.
*Communications staff can screen a reporter's call to get the gist of the story for you; simply direct the journalist to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-319-5600 or let us know if you'd like us to return a reporter's call on your behalf.
When contacted directly by journalists, find out their name, the name of their outlet, the topic of the story, and their deadline. It's also helpful to ascertain exactly what reporters are looking for: a simple quote for a short news story, or extensive background for a feature story.
*Are you the appropriate spokesperson? Is a reporter asking you to speak on behalf of the University, your department, or the Catholic Church? If in doubt, refer the reporter to the communications office at email@example.com or 202-319-5600.
Based on what reporters are interested in, decide if you have the time and the expertise to help them. If your area of expertise doesn't cover all of a reporter's questions, you can offer to address specific parts of the query. If you have time constraints, remember that sometimes five minutes is all it takes to answer a question for a reporter with a daily deadline. (And make it clear when agreeing to the interview that you only have five to 10 minutes to talk.) If you don't have the time/expertise to do an interview, refer the reporter to a colleague whose expertise is a better match for the question, or direct the journalist to seek another recommendation from communications staff.
Don't hesitate to offer to call a reporter back in 15 minutes or so if you need to collect your thoughts or confirm information that you're unsure of before conducting the interview.
Developing a friendly rapport with reporters is good, but remember: Everything you say to a journalist is "on the record." Don't say something that you don't want to see in print.
Try to keep research-specific terms and "jargon" to a minimum, unless you are being interviewed for an industry-specific publication.
Journalists, particularly radio and television reporters, are more likely to use short, to-the-point quotes. Most on-air television interviews include less than one minute of the full interview (the average quote is eight seconds long) so it's important to be clear and concise.
Reporters often call for expertise about issues they know very little about. Never assume a reporter understands everything you say. Remember to explain technical terms, and keep answers as simple and straightforward as possible. Don't hesitate to define a term very carefully to avoid misunderstandings, and use analogies to convey a simple, graphic image. It's also helpful to speak slowly and spell difficult words or names.
*Don't expect a reporter to show you a story before publication; it conflicts with journalists' professional ethics. However, you can ask a reporter to call you after the story is complete to read back sections quoting you and the facts you provided, in order to ensure they are accurate.
*If you are misquoted, or if the story contains a mistake, the Division of University Communications can contact reporters to request corrections or to set the record straight for future reference.
Reporters may call to elicit a comment about a controversial topic. In such cases, they will often look to you to provide a quote that takes a different stance from somebody with an opposing viewpoint. Find out upfront if that is what a reporter is interested in, and if you choose to respond, know your message before the interview begins. If you're being interviewed about a controversial topic, consider the areas you'll want to discuss and how you'll respond if tough questions arise. It's often a safe bet to respond from a position of academic expertise, i.e., explaining things from a scholarly perspective, rather than offering personal opinion or conjecture about a topic.
Remember that audiences (particularly television viewers) often judge the content of what you say by the way you say it. A pleasant, compassionate demeanor will add to the "credibility factor" that comes across in an interview.
It's best to wear professional clothes, suitable for teaching in the classroom. Newscasters often say warm or bright colors read better on camera than too much white or washed-out shades. Plain blue or white shirts with sports jackets and simple ties work best for men (try to avoid checkered shirts). For women, solid, bright colors work well, with simple jewelry. It's also a good idea for priests to wear their collars for broadcast interviews.
Maintain eye contact with the interviewer, rather than looking at the camera. Try to maintain a steady gaze, and avoid large, sweeping gestures with your hands. Try to avoid fidgeting, rocking or swiveling. If standing, stand still. Animation is fine if it's confined to voice and facial expressions.
Use plain-spoken, conversational language. Keep it brief, and try to restate your main point more than once. Remember, few sound bites/quotes are longer than 8 to 20 seconds long. Mention Catholic University in your sound bite to ensure your affiliation with it is not edited out of the story.
If presented with an unexpected or "hostile" question while on camera, try not to reflect anger or annoyance with your voice. Simply say you are not prepared to answer the question at this time, or indicate the question is not in your area of scholarly expertise. Avoid the phrase “no comment;” it has become associated with guilt.
Additional media training is available on request. For more information contact the Division of University Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-319-5600.