How to Work with the Media
How to Work with the Media
Engaging with the media is one of the most effective methods to reach the public: TV news broadcasts often have audiences of several million viewers, while online sites for many newspapers have millions of loyal readers each month.
UCC staff and students should engage with the media to explain and discuss their work. It helps to provide the public and decision makers with information about the latest scientific discoveries or emerging health concerns, particularly where there may be ethical or societal issues at stake. Engaging with the media can convey the wonder of research and the crucial role of science in society, for example. It may even inspire the next generation.
Most national outlets have writers who are knowledgeable, responsible and as passionate about research as you are. Yet you may remain apprehensive about dealing with journalists. What if they dumb down your work? What if they misquote you? This guide is full of advice for when you have a story to tell, and to show you that working with the media needn’t be daunting. It is just one of the tools available to support you in your public and media engagement activities.
Are you about to publish some interesting findings? Have you reached a significant milestone in your research? Do you need to recruit volunteers for your study? Journalists are keen to know the latest developments in research; they want to know why your work is important and how it might affect their readers, listeners and viewers.
Our Media & PR team (+353 (0) 21 490 2758) will help you prepare a press release or news piece, and we run regular media training and workshops, which we would encourage you to attend, especially if you are new to media work or your story has controversial elements.
Timing is essential: the sooner you can alert UCC’s Media & PR team, the better – for example, as soon as your paper has been accepted by a journal. You can speak to a member of the team ahead of publication and you will not be breaking the journal’s embargo policy by doing so. It is best to give at least a fortnight’s notice to prepare a press release or brief journalists.
Press offices work together, too. To ensure that your approach is coordinated, please let UCC’s Media & PR team know what other organisations have been involved in your research, for example journals, other universities or funders. Of course, not every story will be of interest to the national or international media. If you’re working with UCC’s Media and PR team, they can advise you on what makes a story newsworthy and talk you through the options to come up with the best way to tell yours.
Tips for Speaking to the Media
No two interviews will be the same, and print, radio and TV interviews all differ significantly.
Ask these questions before you agree:
- What is the programme and what is its audience?
- What is the interview about and what areas specifically will be covered?
- Is anyone else being interviewed, and if so who? Will you be debating the issue with them head-to-head?
- Who will be conducting the interview? The presenter, or someone else in the studio?
- How long will the interview last?
- Is it live or pre-recorded?
- Where will the interview take place? What time should you arrive?
General Tips to Consider before doing any Interview
- Write down three key points that you want to get across and jot down some key facts and figures that help illustrate them.
- Think about what questions you might get asked and how you would respond.
- What is the one question you wouldn’t want to be asked?
- Be positive, calm and courteous – and try to answer even the difficult questions, as avoiding them can sound evasive.
- The interviewer may pause to get you to say more than you would like.
- If you’ve made your point, stand firm and don’t be tempted to fill the silence.
- Remember your audience – you are talking to the public, not your peers.
- Use simple language and avoid scientific terminology, acronyms or long titles.
- Use statistics sparingly and try to use everyday terms where possible – for example, say “one in three” or “half” rather than “33 per cent” or “50 per cent”.
- Beware of throwaway comments: assume that everything you say will be quoted, even if the journalist has closed their notebook or turned off their recorder.
It’s not just the traditional media – newspapers and broadcasters – that are interested in research stories. Stories are reported, shared, discussed (and criticised) everywhere online, including on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, community networks, Instagram and video streaming sites.
Internet coverage has advantages: it reaches a wide audience, can be more engaging and – if the journalist makes an error – is easier to correct.
You’ll often see a comments section under a news or blog piece, which can generate interesting, often heated discussion. It’s also easier to tailor a news story to a particular audience or format – on the internet there’s endless space and a massive audience, particularly with more people regularly using their smartphones to go online. However, it can also mean that a potentially negative story can blow up into a crisis within hours or even minutes on social networks such as Twitter. This means it’s always best to think twice before making throwaway comments online.
All media outlets now have an online presence, offering much more content than their print or broadcast editions. When you are telling us about your research, please think about what additional content you can offer:
- Do you have any visually striking images or infographics that we could provide to online outlets, or any footage of your research?
- Would you be willing to write a comment piece or blog post to accompany any news coverage?
- Is your story something that’s of interest to a specific group, for example parents or those suffering from a health condition, who might be better targeted via a live chat online?
- Do you have any interactive content – for example a quiz or questionnaire that people can complete online?
How do Broadcast Interviews Work?
Radio interviews will be either live or pre-recorded. You will usually be asked to go into a studio or use an ISDN line (UCC has one of these), which broadcasts more clearly than a regular phone.
TV interviews may be held on the day your research is published or pre-recorded a day or two beforehand. TV stations may ask to film in your lab. Filming can be time-consuming and disruptive: it can take a couple of hours to film a piece only a couple of minutes long. But, TV news reaches large audiences and has a big impact, so it can be worthwhile.
- Be wary of wearing bracelets or anything that might make a noise when you gesticulate, as this can be distracting for a listener.
- Smile before you speak – it will instantly lift the tone of your voice and make you sound more engaging. Deep breathe for a few moments while you wait to be interviewed. It calms the brain and steadies the voice.
- Try to avoid too many ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, but don’t become fixated on this. The odd one will not be noticed by your listeners.
- Provided you don’t rustle any papers, it could be useful to have some brief notes in front of you while you do the interview. Have three major points you wish to make in front of you as reminders, which may include a note to mention your funding agency (SFI, HRB), if appropriate.
- You will find that the questions asked in the interview will mimic (approx. 75%) the questions asked by the radio programme’s researcher in advance of the interview. Take note of the ‘line’ the researcher takes.
- Remember that you are not talking to thousands but individuals in front of their TV.
- Try to treat the interview like a conversation with the interviewer – avoid the temptation to look at the camera, unless it is a remote interview ‘down the line’.
- Choose plain, smart clothes that will not be distracting on TV. Pastel colours work particularly well. Try to avoid close patterns like checks and stripes, which can cause ‘strobing’ on camera.
- If a journalist calls you, it’s a good idea to take a moment to gather your thoughts. Ask if you can call them back in 10 minutes.
- Don’t expect the journalist to show you a copy of the article before it is published. Journalists may agree to show any direct quotes, but even this is not guaranteed.
- Never speak ‘off the record’ unless you know the journalist well and are sure you can trust them not to repeat or report your comments.
If you’re approached by a journalist, UCC’s Media and PR Office (+353 (0) 21 490 2758) will be able to advise you and help you to prepare.