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Current Operating Mode: GREEN
There are two types of interviews: print (newspapers, magazines) and broadcast (radio, television). Regardless of the format, expect a reporter to paraphrase much of your information and select a few of your pithy quotes to use verbatim.
Before the Interview
Know why you have agreed to be interviewed. Does the reporter want you to comment on an event that just occurred in another part of the country or world? Did the reporter spy your research in a scientific journal? Does the reporter want to ask about the success of a program that you recently began? Ask.
Develop your message. Consider the points you want to make to the reporter. If you are doing a telephone interview, jot down your main messages and have them in front of you during the call. If you are doing an on-camera interview, think about your messages but do not memorize them— you will end up sounding stiff.
Keep it simple. Readers and listeners do not do the work you do. Strip your messages of professional jargon. Consider how you would describe your scientific breakthrough to your grandmother, not your colleague.
Identify examples or analogies. Analogies can make a complicated scientific discovery much easier for the public to understand.
Make it relevant. If your work is basic science, connect the dots between the basic science and the long-term applications. If you have been asked to describe a policy, provide context for the story by mentioning similar policies that have proven successful.
Anticipate the negative. Consider any negative questions that may arise. If you are announcing new findings, what are the limitations? Mention them.
During the Interview
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Share your key points again and again. Inquire if the reporter needs you to clarify any information or explain in a different way. If the reporter does not understand what you are talking about, readers and listeners won't either.
If you do not know the answer to a question, don't try to answer it. Tell the reporter that your area of expertise does not extend to their question. If a question is related to an ongoing legal case or a personnel matter, simply defer. "I'm sorry, but I am not at liberty to discuss that." If you know another person who can answer the reporter's questions, offer a referral.
Be yourself. Let your enthusiasm for your subject matter show.
After the Interview
Follow up. If the reporter requested facts or figures that you did not have readily available during the interview, send it later. Provide your contact information in case the reporter has additional questions when they are writing the story.
Read the article, watch or listen to the coverage. The more you understand about how the media presents your information, the better equipped you will be for future interviews.