Tips for Talking with Reporters
If you are successful in creating relationships with the media and become a "source" on your issue, you will get calls for interviews.
- Call them back promptly. Ask when their deadline is.
- It is best if you already know what kind of story the reporter tends to do, what kind of questions they ask. If you have time, look up some of their work.
- Prepare as much as you can. If you know what they are calling about, get some background information. Anticipate requests for statistical information, such as data on the number of people with disabilities in the state, number of people who use wheelchairs, etc. If you expect reporter inquiries on a particular subject, arm yourself in advance with facts and figures. If lack of reliable data is part of the problem, explain that as well.
- Be helpful. Ask what kind of story they are doing, how much information they need, if they would like to speak to a person directly affected by the story (unless that is you).
- If you are setting up another interview, e.g. with another consumer or a provider, get all the details straight. When will they call or visit? Do they need a translator available? You can role-play with the consumer first, if that will make them more comfortable. Be sure any confidentiality issues are settled before the call or visit.
- Relax. If you are nervous or this is your first time talking to a reporter, it is OK to say so (off camera or off the air). A good reporter wants to get it right, not to embarrass you.
- Listen carefully to the question. Take a few seconds to frame your answer.
- Speak slowly and avoid jargon. Speak with confidence and enthusiasm.
- Smile when you speak. Even if they can't see you, it comes through.
- Don't be thrown off, but you may hear them typing while you talk. There may also be pauses after you answer a question - it doesn't necessarily mean they are looking for more, they may just still be writing what you said.
- Be brief. Keep to major points and broader issues. Don't spend ten seconds on the point and two minutes on the exceptions.
- If you don't know an answer, say so. Ask if they would like you to look into it and get back to them. Ask how much time you have.
- If it seems that you have been misunderstood, fix it immediately. Be gentle, but fix it.
- Be clear about your position and/or that of the organization you represent. Provide materials if possible. When giving a reporter background materials, it is usually best to keep them very brief. A one-page fact sheet or position statement is preferred, unless the reporter wants to do in-depth research on the issue involved.
- Nothing is ever off the record. Assume that anything you say or give them could end up in the story. Be careful making jokes.
- If you are quoted in an article, clip and save it.
- If you aren't quoted, don't take it personally. If you were helpful, they may call again.
For television and radio appearances:
- Learn as much as you can about the show - Will it be live or taped? Will there be call-in questions? Will there be an audience? Will there be other guests, if so who? How long is the show, and how long will you be on?
- Check the style of the show beforehand. Is it confrontational or conversational? Are personal stories or statistics more common? Is there a specific audience or issue targeted?
- Dress conservatively for television. Avoid bright white, loud colors or oversize prints. Avoid flashy jewelry. Consider a place for a microphone to be clipped, e.g. jacket lapel.
- Be on time.
- Get a tape if you can. Sometimes it is helpful to bring a tape and ask if a copy can be made at the time the show is recorded or broadcast.