10 Tips for Talking to the News Media
- Get clear on your talking points; then talk to journalists.
Before anyone from your organization speaks with a journalist, be sure you know exactly what you want to say. Don’t let anyone pressure you into talking before you’re ready. It is perfectly allowable to ask a journalist when their deadline is, and offer to call them right back (before their deadline so you can influence the story, but after you’ve established your key message points).
- Don’t go “Off the Record” or provide “Private Background Information”
Members of the media are interested in a story. Editors can overrule their journalists about what gets included in a story, and your private information can end up on the front page. So, only share information that is truly public. This is also true when it comes to interviews: the casual conversation you have with a reporter before or after the “official” interview is still part of the interview. Off-hand comments can become the major focus of the story, if you’re not careful.
- Use the Perfect Pause.
When someone from the media asks you a question, take a moment to think about how to answer. Briefly pause after every question to think. Take a breath. You will be more focused and articulate if you are not trying to talk and think at the same time.
- Avoid jargon, but don’t dumb your information down.
Be sure to avoid acronyms, education-speak, and jargon. This type of language is particularly problematic for English learners. It’s fine to tackle a complicated subject; just be sure you walk people through it. This allows you to be regarded as an expert and appreciated for your candor.
- During interviews, be ready for the questions that you know will come.
While you cannot predict every question, you can predict the types of questions you’ll be asked. Be sure you’re ready for these, especially for a live broadcast (radio, TV):
- Questions you don’t know the answer to
- Response: “Interesting question. Here’s what I can tell you …” and then share what you know
- Questions that call for speculation
- Response: “I can’t speculate, but here’s what is clear…” and then stick to the facts
- Questions that ask for your opinion
- As a spokesperson for an organization, your opinion is considered that of the organization. Be aware of your role, and don’t give a personal opinion that runs counter to your organization’s stance.
- “Not-so-simple” yes/no questions
- If someone says, “This is a yes or no question. Where do you stand?” You can respond with, “Well, it’s not that simple.” And then give a thoughtful answer.
- The question you’ve already answered, asked in a different way
- Sometimes reporters don’t get the answer they want, so they’ll ask a question that is substantially the same as one they’ve asked. Be sure to stick to your message, and don’t get exasperated. Just politely answer the question the same way you did last time. (If your tone gets snippy, the reporter can use that against you.)
- Get quoted accurately.
Stick to limited talking points and speak slowly enough for a reporter to keep up. When talking to a reporter over the phone, listen for the sound of typing or writing, and slow down to let the reporter stay with you when needed. Also, while reporters are under no obligation to do so, many will read back your quote if you ask them to. Finally, you can offer to send them your quote via email, so they’re sure to get it right.
- Build relationships.
If you share information with reporters regularly (and before they must come looking for it), they will appreciate it. Having good relationships with reporters is helpful during good times and crucial during bad times.
- Tell your story.
In a void, reporters will share the story they find. If you share your story, and it’s a compelling one, reporters are just as likely to tell your story as anything.
- Refer to your media kit.
Offer comprehensive background information and engaging photos/video via your media kit. Once an interview is over, refer reporters to your website’s media kit.
- Be sure the reporter can get back in touch easily.
Depending on how a reporter was routed to you, he or she may not have your direct contact information. It is in your best interest to be available for questions and/or fact-checking.