General advice for dealing with media
- Never deny a legitimate story and never lie to journalists.
- If you agree to be interviewed (and you don’t have to agree) be sympathetic to journalists’ deadlines and return their call quickly. It is reasonable to say you will ring them back in ten minutes to allow you time to gather your thoughts and, if necessary, seek advice from the Press Office.
- Consider the reader, viewer or listener and try to speak to them. You are not speaking to your peers.
- Ask the journalist if they have understood your explanations and if not, try explaining again to avoid seeing your work misrepresented.
- Everything is on the record – even what you say after the interview has ended.
- Let silence hang in the air once you have answered a question and avoid the natural urge to keep talking.
- You do not have to answer every question, and can instead ‘bridge’ back to the points you want to make.
- Practise some good, colourful, engaging quotes- they are the lifeblood of news. The best quotes come from:
Analogies can help explain even extremely difficult concepts. For example, a cosmologist in an interview compared soundwaves in the universe to ripples on a pond;
- Translate statistics
Use exact statistics whenever possible but translate them into something everyday. For example, "These fibres are ten times thinner than a human hair.” Or “If we stacked all our written knowledge on this subject it would be higher than two double decker buses.”
- Personal experience and anecdotes
"When I started this research I didn’t anticipate…” or “My interest in engineering started when I was a teenager trying things out, seeing them fail and trying again.”
- Anticipate questions. There will be no or few surprises in an interview if you take the time to prepare. If necessary, imagine the worst possible question and prepare an answer for that. Try to be open but if you are asked a hostile question or one you can’t answer, ‘bridge’ (‘my research doesn’t cover that but what I did discover was…’ or ‘I think what you are asking is…’). Talk over any potentially tricky questions with the Press Office or with colleagues and do a dry run if time allows.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t allow yourself to speculate or be drawn into answering hypothetical questions. Confine your answers to what is known - you will feel more secure during the interview and the resulting story will be more accurate.
- Be wary of questions that start: “So, what you’re saying is…” Avoid just agreeing to the journalist’s choice of words and instead rephrase using your own choice of words.