The media plays a significant role in setting the country's social and policy agenda. News coverage of health issues is perhaps the greatest single source of health education in the U.S. Researchers may be invited to speak to or explain their work in relation to a news story. Interviews may occur for print, radio, web video, or television. Regardless, there are general guidelines.
- Always return a reporter's phone call to confirm the date/time/location, confirm the topic and type of interview, and ask about the intended audience.
- Rehearse answers to typical questions.
- Tell the truth, and if not authorized to give certain information, refer them to who can.
- Smile, speak slowly, and enunciate clearly.
- Use the interviewer's title.
- Do not interrupt the interviewer.
- Take your time. It is perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
- If the interview is done in person, maintain eye contact with the interviewer/reporter.
- Reporters will likely expect you to draw conclusions from your research.
- If given an opportunity to review the interview before release, only make changes to significant errors that relate to your content and not the article or video overall.
- Understand that nothing is “off the record,” including conversations before and after the formal interview.
Recommendations for Format
- Plan up to three main messages you want to convey, and get the main points across right away. Repeat these messages as much as possible.
- Use bold, short, catchy statements to increase the chance of being quoted.
- Make your final comment clear and concise, reemphasizing the main point.
- Avoid complicated language that would be difficult for the audience to understand.
- Do not use jargon and acronyms.
- Give short answers, and refrain from using filler words such as “um,” “uh,” and “okay.”
- Tell stories and anecdotes that illustrate your point, and give examples.
- Speak confidently. You are the expert.
- Mention your subject by name during the interview rather than saying “it” or “they.”
- Never say “no comment.” Instead, explain why you cannot or do not want to answer.
- Example: “I can't answer that because I haven't seen the research paper to which you are referring.”
- Let your passion for the topic show.
- Prepare transitional bridges to guide the interview back to your message if it is off track:
- The bottom line is ...
- Let me explain something ...
- I would like to make this point before I continue ...
Television Interview Guidelines
- Television interviews are generally prerecorded, but may be done live.
- Learn the format of the program and what stories have recently aired.
- Wear a dark jacket with a light colored shirt, and avoid patterns, bright colors, and clunky jewelry.
- Avoid glasses with thick, dark frames.
- Sit or stand straight, and look at the reporter, not at the camera or the floor.
- Speak at a normal volume, enunciate, and speak slowly.
- Do not repeat the reporter's question(s).
- When giving out a web address or phone number, do it twice and slowly.
- It does not matter if the interview is 60 seconds or 60 minutes, communicate the main message in the first 30 seconds. Additional time should be spent expanding basic points.
- During the interview, do not look up when thinking of what to say. It is better to look down if you need to look away for a moment.
- Move your eyes down, not your entire head when glancing at notes.
- Use relaxed, confident, and friendly body language.
Radio Interview Guidelines
- Radio interviews are generally done live but may be taped.
- Keep your answers short.
- Be conversational and quotable.
- Speak clearly and slowly, limit lengthy pauses, and do not say “um” or “uh.”
- Prior to the interview, request a list of questions that may be asked.
- Be honest when unsure of the answer and follow up.
- The interview should be conducted in a quiet room.
- Do not use an intercom phone or mobile phone because the audio will be distorted.
Print Interview Guidelines
- This interview is typically conducted on the phone and may or may not be recorded.
- Learn the purpose of the interview, the type of story to be written, the angle, profession/title/name of others being interviewed, and the reporter's background.
- Read other articles written by the same reporter.
- Print interviews can run anywhere between 10 and 60 minutes.
- Identify the main message prior to the interview and repeat the message throughout.
- Send the reporter information on the topic prior to the interview and any additional relevant resources following the interview.
Interview Follow Up
- Thank the reporter.
- Give the reporter a business card.
- Ask when to expect the interview to appear.
- If pleased with the interview, send a complimentary email or a thank you note.