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This section will help you to understand what the media might want from engagement with researchers. It will help you effectively prepare for, and give, interviews for print or broadcast media.
What the media is looking for
Why might the media contact you?
The media are really unlikely to contact you - so it is best to be proactive if you want to engage with them. If they are aware of you - they might contact you:
- To get their facts straight to make sure that they are presenting a story correctly
- To give context to a breaking story for instance volcanologists were inundated with enquiries when the Icelandic volcano erupted
- To find out more about your work as much research inspires curiosity or concern – they may want to find out more or occasionally to raise objections to your work
- As a response to a press release about your work
Getting media interest
How might you interest the media in your work?
- Story is everything. The media understand the importance of a story for engaging people - so you need to offer them a compelling narrative. This could include excitement, shock, surprise, success/failure, death or humour
- Give them a 'hook' that answers the question, "why should I care?". This could be a factual hook, a new discovery or invention, an event or anniversary
- Different media need different things. The various media (including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, online and social media etc.) are different stylistically and have separate needs. For example, TV looks for visual interest and movement, radio needs interesting audio, while print needs imagery
- Get to know them. Understanding the media outlet you are targetting, the kinds of stories they run and their target audience is crucial. Different media have different audiences, and different styles, so the more you understand about them - the more likely it is that you will offer them something they want
- Be prepared to fail. You won't always get your research noticed, but you can increase your chances by being prepared to share your work through press releases; website or blogs
Knowing what to say and how to say it
A good interview needs good preparation. Some people find the SPIN mnemonic can help:
- Summarise. Think about your key message and write an "elevator pitch" that gets it across in under a minute. This could be composed of three sentences:
- The big picture (set the context)
- Your main area of concern
- Your take on it
- Prioritise. Break down your message into its component points and prioritise them. Make sure you get to the most important point first
- Illustrate. Find examples, short stories and analogies to illustrate your points and give them a human connection or relevance
- eNcapsulate. Prepare some punchy sound bites. These could include key facts or brief anecdotes
Video exercise: Interviewing
This video provides advice on giving interviews. Jot down the key lessons relevant to you.
Does anything surprise you?
Do you disagree with anything?
How might this influence how you approach doing an interview?
Exercise: Being interviewed
Why not set up a small group of researchers to practice together. Prepare for an interview about your research using the SPIN mneumonic to help you. Take turns interviewing and being interviewed. Spend time as a group to reflect on each performance. What would you do differently next time?
ABC of Responding to Questions
- Answer Answer, or at least Acknowledge, the question, but be brief. Don't feel you have to say much if the question doesn't fit in with you main points
- Bridge Bridging takes you from the question you were asked to what you want to say, and comes quite naturally if you focus ahead on your message rather than on the question. Think about it like driving a car – to get the car to go where you want to go, you need to look down the road towards your destination, not at the bonnet of the car. Possible bridging statements could be:
"... it's important to remember that..."
"... before we move on let me just add...."
"... yes/no, but...."
"... let me put that into perspective..."
- Communicate Communicate your message. Don't use jargon, acronyms or initials that may be unfamiliar to the audience. Try to be concise and to the point, and don't waffle. Have a look at the tips on language in the Writing section as many of these also apply here. Remember to use your preparation – summarise, prioritise, illustrate and encapsulate
When answering and bridging, respond with integrity and be careful not to be evasive. However, don't allow the interviewer to steer you on a route away from your main message or into subjects you don't want to talk about; instead, bridge and introduce things you do.
For more information and tips have a look at the NCCPE guides:
There are more tips for being interviewed in the Wellcome Trust Guide to Working with the Media.