Here are some tips for scientists on working effectively with the media.

Questions to ask when a reporter phones 

  • Who am I speaking to?
  • What is your article for – the media outlet and any specific program or section?
  • Are you focusing on any particular aspect of the subject?
  • How much time do you need?
  • Have you spoken with anyone else?
  • What is your deadline?

Before calling back 

  • Determine what kind of reporter you’re dealing with and therefore what depth of information you are most likely to need.
  • Decide the KEY POINT(s) you want to get across, (maximum 3)  and make these points in the simplest language with only the essential details
  • Think up striking analogies/metaphors from everyday life
  • Develop “sound bites”  (10 – 15 seconds)
  • Ask yourself: What is significant about your work? What are the implications? This will help answer the underlying question “Why should we care?”
  • Double-check any factual information and have it handy

 During the interview 

  • Remember you are talking to a reporter because you believe in helping to improve public understanding.
  • While you are explaining things try to make sure the reporter is keeping up.
  • Repeat what you think is important, underline what is significant.
  • Avoid jargon as much as possible and spell out any technical terms or words.
  • Provide your contact information, including after hours, so reporter can reach you with a last-minute question or for fact-checking.
  • Offer to send background articles and links for possible graphic illustrations.

 Questions when the caller is a broadcast producer

  • Is this radio or TV?
  • Live or recorded?
  • Are you focusing on any particular aspect of the subject?
  • Who is the interviewer?
  • Are there other guests?
  • How much time do you need? How long a story are you doing? Is it a “feature” or news story?
  • Where do you want to film me – in a studio, my lab or other location?
  • Will you want to film my lab in operation, while an experiment is taking place?
  • Will you want to interview other members of my team (including the grad students)
  • Will you edit the interview or run it in its entirety?

 And bear in mind … 

  • For a five-minute feature piece you can spend the whole day with the crew – and sometimes two days. Can you spare the time?  Will the department head support you?
  • A good TV story has strong visuals and strong characters.
  • Recognize this as a teaching opportunity for your grad students and get them involved. Having a few as part of the story can be good – not more than three or four.
  • Do you have any research video, animation or stills that might illustrate your research? (make sure you have the rights to any video or photography: who shot it…and who is in it.)
  • Ask for a copy of the piece that aired, as a courtesy for your time. Check if you can run it / post it with credit on your website, or link to their website.

Additional documents for scientists on media engagement are available here, courtesy of the Science Media Centre UK.

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