Working With the Media

Introduction

This guide is aimed at helping the SUNY Potsdam community deal with reporter queries and media requests. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Public Affairs at (315) 267-2114.

Types of media and what to expect

The needs of journalists vary depending on their medium and their audience—and, of course, depending on the story.

Newspaper reporters can deal with interviews in a variety of ways. Sometimes they prefer to come on campus to speak in person along with a photographer, but often they can conduct an interview over the phone. Sometimes, they will simply ask questions via e-mail. Often, they will simply write down or type your responses in shorthand as you speak, but sometimes will record you and transcribe the interview. Be careful to speak slowly and clearly for these reasons.

Radio journalists often prefer to conduct in-person interviews in order to get better sound quality, but they can also conduct interviews over the phone. Because they have tight time constraints, your interview will often be condensed down into a short “sound bite.” Be aware of this as you prepare.

Television reporters almost always prefer to tape an in-person interview. They will often discuss the issue with you beforehand, and then tape the question-and-answer session to be edited later. They also must get multiple visual elements to include with their stories, so be prepared to be videotaped not only speaking, but sometimes going about your job as well. Once again, only a short sound bite from your interview may be used.

When a reporter calls

It’s best to treat every reporter request as if they are working on a daily deadline—because this is often the case. Sometimes journalists have more time to work on a non-time sensitive piece, but you should still work to help them sooner rather than later. The more helpful you are, the more you will earn their respect.

You can ask for some time to prepare for an interview, and ask the journalist exactly what information they seek. Use this chance to prepare your response and message.

You always have the right to decline an interview if you don’t have an answer or feel the request is unreasonable. If you grant an interview to one media outlet, it is only appropriate for you to speak to others who wish to follow up on the same topic. If you are tempted to decline an interview because you are too busy, you must inform the Office of Public Affairs so that we can work to maintain a good working relationship with the reporter and try to help him or her ourselves.

Interview pointers

First and foremost, consider the audience. In order to convey your story best, avoid any academic jargon and useless background information and speak to a layperson. Imagine you’re talking to an aunt or uncle who has no idea about the topic. Don’t be afraid to ask the journalist if he or she understands a point before continuing.

Tips

  • Be prepared! Even if you just gather your thoughts for a minute before calling the reporter back, it’s important that you think through what you are going to say.
  • Plan, don’t panic. Make sure you understand the question before answering it. 
  • Have a message. It’s best to use a handful of talking points, and keep returning to those answers if you need to while answering questions. It’s OK to repeat your message if it’s important; this makes it more likely that your point will make it across.
  • Anticipate what the reporter is going to ask. Think of the best and worst questions they could have, and your answers for both.
  • Stand still, especially if you are conducting a TV interview.
  • Speak clearly and concisely and enunciate your words.
  • Talk to the reporter, not the microphone or the TV camera. If a photographer is taking your portrait, follow their directions and don’t look directly at them.
  • Never say “no comment”: Instead, reply with something more specific like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have that information,” or “I can’t speculate about that."
  • Be brief. Think in headlines, quotes and sound bites. If you’re done giving your answer, stop talking. You don’t have to elaborate if it’s not necessary.
  • Don’t go “off the record.” Don’t say anything you wouldn’t put your name next to.
  • Don’t ask to see a story before it appears. You can’t treat a reporter like your student. Usually, newspapers and stations have policies that forbid anyone but reporters or editors from seeing copy before it is released. You may insult the journalist by asking. Instead, encourage them to contact you if they have any questions or anything is not clear.

Think of the interview as a circular formula:

Listen to the question
Answer briefly
Bridge with a transitional phrase
Deliver your message! Then, listen to the next question and begin again…

After the interview

If there was an inaccuracy in the story, contact our office to discuss this. We may work with the paper to request a correction if it is warranted. Public Affairs maintains news clippings, and may send around e-mails to administrators noting the piece that you were featured in.