November 1, 2011

How to handle the media

Posted in Susan's Blog tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:20 am by Susan

Increasingly academics and writers are being asked to liaise with the media. This was the subject of a fascinating conference I attended earlier this year, and the starting point for a series of videos by St Andrews University. Here is a digest. Hope it helps!


Find out about the programme/paper and journalist who wish to interview you and ask about their angle. Write down what you want to say then reduce it to three points. Remember you may only have chance to present one.

Start with your conclusions

You are unlikely to be quoted at length, so put what is most important first. You can always backtrack and fill in later.

Consider emailing

If you are approached by a print media journalist, ask if you can reply to questions by email. This will give you valuable thinking time and mean you have an opportunity to read through your work and correct anything you are unhappy with before submission. It also provides you with a record of your words.

The human element

Don’t just regurgitate facts, tell a story.

A rough guide….

Journalists are busy people and will probably have several projects on the go at once. They are highly unlikely to know much about your topic so it’s a good idea to draw up a rough guide. Try to think in terms of what will interest their readers or viewers. Many journalists will be genuinely grateful if you can help them get to the important questions and points.


Use your words and voice to paint a picture for the listener. Don’t wear jewelry that jingles as you talk or rustle pieces of paper. The mike will flatten your voice so be enthusiastic. Remember you can hear a smile. Imagine you are speaking to one person, not many.


Research suggests that 55% of people’s impression is based on appearance, 38% on voice, and only 7% on a clear understanding of the message. Anticipate the questions and rehearse the answers, giving plenty of thought to delivery. Clothes should be unremarkable: you don’t want viewers to fix on your outfit instead of your words. Ignore the camera, mikes and lights as much as you can by focusing on the interviewer.


Speak slowly. Use short sentences with no sub-clauses. Present one idea at a time and avoid jargon or acronyms.

Never volunteer anything personal

Don’t use anything from your own life unless it is relevant and you are happy for it to be made public.

Respect deadlines

Journalists often work to the tightest of deadlines, so if they say they need something by 4pm they mean it!

Dealing with difficult questions

If you are asked a difficult question, remember the ABC. First, A = answer briefly but politely. Then B = a bridging phrase such as ‘it’s also important to consider’ to steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Finally, C = you take control and say what you have to say.