Basics of talking to the media

For many education employees, talking to the media is a rather scary proposition. The following information provides some tips that will help you in your next interview with the press.

One of the first principles is to keep it simple; especially if you are working with television. The media is looking for the few-second sound bite, or in print media, a really good quote.

When preparing for your interview, it is best to develop two or three key points and use them and re-use them during the interview.

Sounds simple enough, but in fact there are five reasons why it is tough:

  • The “non-Webster” definition of news – what makes news is not the ordinary but the unusual.
  • The freshness factor – if it is old, it is no longer news. Reporters need to be current, and so they work under constant deadline pressure.
  • Looking for a fight – journalists are pushed to show conflict. So a reported will look for the other side of the story, even if it is only one person with a different view.
  • The law of personification – every story needs a face. This is why the news media want access to students and staff.
  • The human element – even reporters make mistakes. Like everyone else, reporters have beliefs, which can sometimes bias their reporting.

Dealing with the media like a pro

  • Don’t duck reporters – it is best to let reporters know if the subject is something you can’t talk about because it is confidential or to admit you don’t know anything on the subject. Not answering the phone or returning messages will result in the media doing the same to when you have a story you want to get out.
  • Be aware of deadlines – reporters work under pressure. Respond to requests for information as promptly as possible.
  • Think ahead – develop your key points, which are points that are mosts important to you. Know your key points thoroughly. Anticipate their questions, your answers, and “bridges” to key points. You don’t have to answer every question a reporter asks. Learn how to respond to tricky questions by pivoting the conversation back to your message.
  • Give reporters background information or the context of a situation. Reporters (especially television reporters) cover lots of different stories, so usually they don’t have a depth of knowledge about a particular issue they are covering. Explaining the situation lessens being quoted out of context. Avoid acronyms and jargon, or if you say it, explain it.
  • Assume everything you say to a reporter is “on the record.” If you would be embarrassed to have a comment show up in the paper or on the air, don’t say it to a reporter.
  • Keep your answers simple, brief and clear. Don’t get bogged down in details.
  • Use and repeat your key points. Say the two or three things that you think are really important. Don’t be afraid to reuse or rephrase your points throughout the interview.
  • Make your message memorable. Don’t get cutesy, but use an analogy or a practical example that people can relate to. Peopel don’t remember a list of facts, but they do remember stories.
  • Give the media feedback on a story. It is important to bring factual inaccuracies to the attention of reporters for correction. However, don’t expect a retraction. If the reporter covered a story well, be sure to call and thank him or her.

In order to overcome fears of working with the media, it is important to build relationships with reporters, news editors, etc. Positive working relationships with the media make it easier to work with them during difficult situations.

Finally, remember the more you work with the media, the more comfortable you will become when giving an interview.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG