Tips for Talking With Reporters

If you are successful in creating relationships with the media and become a “source” on your issue, you will get calls for interviews.
  • Call them back promptly. Ask when their deadline is.
  • It is best if you already know what kind of story the reporter tends to do, what kind of questions they ask. If you have time, look up some of their work.
  • Prepare as much as you can. If you know what they are calling about, get some background information. I recently got a call on a new program for the uninsured in New Haven. Before I called back, I had looked up the number of uninsured in Connecticut and similar successful programs in other states.
  • Be helpful. Ask what kind of story they are doing, how much information they need, if they would like to speak to a person directly affected by the story (unless that is you).
  • If you are setting up another interview, e.g. with another consumer or a provider, get all the details straight. When will they call or visit? Do they need a translator available? You can role-play with the consumer first, if that will make them more comfortable. Be sure any confidentiality issues are settled before the call or visit.
  • Relax. If you are nervous or this is your first time talking to a reporter, it is OK to say so (off camera or off the air). A good reporter wants to get it right, not to embarrass you.
  • Listen carefully to the question. Take a few seconds to frame your answer.
  • Speak slowly and avoid jargon. Speak with confidence and enthusiasm.
  • Smile when you speak. Even if they can’t see you, it comes through.
  • Don’t be thrown off if you may hear them typing while you talk on the phone. There may also be pauses after you answer a question. It doesn’t mean they are looking for more, they may still be writing what you said.
  • Be brief. Keep to major points and broader issues. Don’t spend ten seconds on the point and two minutes on the exceptions.
  • If you don’t know an answer, say so. Ask if they would like you to look into it and get back to them. Ask when they need an answer.
  • If it seems that you have been misunderstood, fix it immediately. Be gentle, but fix it.
  • Be clear about your position and/or that of the organization you represent. Provide materials if possible.
  • Nothing is ever “off the record”. Assume that anything you say or give them could end up in the story. Be careful making jokes or using sarcasm.
  • Save the article when it is published.
  • If you aren’t quoted, don’t take it personally. If you were helpful, they may call again.
For television and radio appearances:
  • Learn as much as you can about the show – Will it be live or taped? Will there be call-in questions? Will there be an audience? Will there be other guests, if so who? How long is the show, and how long will you be on?
  • Check the style of the show Is it confrontational or conversational? Are personal stories or statistics more common? Is there are specific audience or issue targeted?
  • Dress conservatively for television. Avoid bright white, loud colors or oversize prints. Avoid flashy jewelry. Consider a place for a microphone to be clipped, e.g. jacket lapel.
  • Be on time.

Related articles

Writing op-eds and letters to the editor

Fact sheets and alerts

Changing public opinion

Tips for public speaking

Research, data

Links

CT Media links

Media advocacy, from Community Catalyst

Media interviews from the Center for Rural Health, University of North Dakota