Communication Notes

Meant for researchers but good for anyone, these six articles provide communication resources, tips and guidelines for report writing (1:3:25), presentations, posters, self-editing and talking to media.

Dealing With the Media

by admin admin | Jun 01, 2010

When dealing with the media, it's a good idea to co-ordinate your contact with them through your organization's public relations department - they are used to getting calls from the media. You will also be able to get advice on media relations from them. The following are a few points to keep in mind when you deal with the media.

  • Determine what your two or three most critical messages are, write them out in short, clear sentences (test-drive them on a non-expert in the subject) and make sure you say them regardless of the questions you are asked. Yes, it is okay to "misunderstand" or "interpret" the questions you are asked.
  • Get back to the media as quickly as possible. The closer it is to the end of the workday when you return a call, the greater chance the reporter will be in a rush and not be able to take time with you during the interview or in creating the story. The longer you wait, the greater the chance for error.
  • Even though time is of the essence, feel free to tell reporters you will call them back in half an hour if you feel caught off-guard. This will give you time to collect your thoughts. As well, feel free to call them back if you remember something new you'd like to point out.
  • Speak plainly. Always talk to the media like they are an interested neighbour or relative. Don't assume they have any knowledge about the subject at hand. Don't use acronyms or jargon.
  • If you are unsure the journalists understood you, ask the journalists to repeat back to you what you have told them. If you ask, sometimes reporters will tell you what quote they are planning to use, and what the context is. Your chances of having them do this increase if you frame this by telling them that you have had trouble with the media in the past, and you are just trying to make sure you have been understood. But they do not have to do it. In order to have a "free press," journalists must be free to choose whatever quote they want, without any pressure of having it approved or censored.
  • Reporters will not allow you to see a story before it goes public. Again, it goes against the ethics of "free press." But do not be afraid to ask questions about what they have understood. It is your best chance to make sure they create an accurate story.
  • Feel free to suggest who else they might want to talk to. Don't assume they know who else to talk to - they are likely working off the top of their heads.
  • Going off the record is not recommended.
  • The season and the day of the week may well affect your chances of getting into the paper. Weekends are very quiet news days, and the media are hungrier for story ideas on the weekends. Summertime is also a quiet media time. As well, look for times when your issue is important in the media (for example, research on emergency room crowding and flu shots should be released in winter when hospitals are jammed and looking for solutions.) If there is a lot going on in the news (for example, something very important happened that day or the day before), consider delaying your press release for a couple of days. The newspaper will already be full of stories on these days.

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