The Catholic University of America

Working with the Media

Faculty experts, the following tips will help you conduct effective interviews with print, TV, radio and online journalists. Doing media interviews enables you to promote CUA and to share your research with potentially thousands of readers and viewers.

BE RESPONSIVE

Respond quickly to media requests, whether they come directly from reporters or from the Office of Public Affairs, to help journalists meet their deadlines. Even if you don't have time to do an interview, it's important to let reporters know quickly so they can move on to their next potential source. The more responsive you are, the more likely journalists are to think of CUA as a useful resource for future inquiries.

* Public affairs staff can screen a reporter's call to get the gist of the story for you; simply direct the journalist to call 202-319-5600 or let us know if you'd like us to return a reporter's call on your behalf.

GET THE BASICS

When contacted directly by journalists, find out their name, publication and/or broadcast station affiliation, the topic of the story, and their deadline. It's also helpful to ascertain exactly what reporters are looking for: a simple quote for a short news story, or extensive background for a feature story. (Note that journalists gathering "background" will not always use quotes from their sources. This means you could be doing a lengthy interview that won't result in a mention of CUA or your research.)

* Are you the appropriate spokesperson? Is a reporter asking you to speak on behalf of the university, your department, or the Catholic Church? If in doubt, refer the reporter to the public affairs office at 202-319-5600.

KNOWING WHAT TO OFFER

Based on what reporters are interested in, decide if you have the time and the expertise to help them. If your area of expertise doesn't cover all of a reporter's questions, you can offer to address specific parts of the query. If you have time constraints, remember that sometimes five minutes is all it takes to answer a question for a reporter with a daily deadline. (And make it clear when negotiating the interview that you only have five to 10 minutes to talk.) If you don't have the time/expertise to do an interview, refer the reporter to a colleague whose expertise is a better match for the question, or direct the journalist to seek another recommendation from the public affairs staff.

UNPREPARED?

Don't hesitate to offer to call a reporter back in 15 minutes or so if you need to collect your thoughts or confirm information that you're unsure of before conducting the interview.

STAY ON THE RECORD

Developing a friendly rapport with reporters is good, but remember: Everything you say to a journalist is "on the record." Don't say something that you don't want to see in print.

AVOID JARGON

Try to keep research-specific terms and "jargon" to a minimum, unless you are being interviewed for an industry-specific publication.

BE BRIEF

Journalists, particularly radio and television reporters, are more likely to use short, to-the-point quotes. Most on-air television interviews include less than one minute of the full interview (the average quote is eight seconds long) so it's important to be clear and concise.

AVOID MISQUOTES

Reporters often call for expertise about issues they know very little about. Never assume a reporter understands everything you say. Remember to explain technical terms, and keep answers as simple and straightforward as possible. Don't hesitate to define a term very carefully to avoid misunderstandings, and use analogies to convey a simple, graphic image. It's also helpful to speak slowly and spell difficult words or names.

* Don't expect a reporter to show you a story before publication; it conflicts with journalists' professional ethics. However, you can ask a reporter to call you after the story is complete to read back sections quoting you and the facts you provided, in order to ensure they are accurate.

* If you are misquoted, or if the story contains a mistake, the Office of Public Affairs can contact reporters to request corrections or to set the record straight for future reference.

ANTICIPATE TOUGH QUESTIONS

Reporters may call to elicit a comment about a controversial topic. In such cases, they will often look to you to provide a quote that takes a different stance from somebody with an opposing viewpoint. Find out upfront if that is what a reporter is interested in, and if you choose to respond, know your message before the interview begins. If you're being interviewed about a controversial topic, consider the areas you'll want to discuss and how you'll respond if tough questions arise. It's often a safe bet to respond from a position of academic expertise, i.e., explaining things from a scholarly perspective, rather than offering personal opinion or conjecture about a topic.

ATTITUDE COUNTS

Remember that audiences (particularly television viewers) often judge the content of what you say by the way you say it. A pleasant, compassionate demeanor will add to the "credibility factor" that comes across in an interview. 

Tips for TV and Radio Interviews

DRESS

It's best to wear professional clothes, suitable for teaching in the classroom. Newscasters often say warm or bright colors "read" better on camera than white or washed-out shades. It's also a good idea for priests to wear their collars for broadcast interviews.

BODY LANGUAGE

Maintain eye contact with the interviewer, rather than looking at the camera. Try to maintain a steady gaze, and avoid large, sweeping gestures with your hands. Try to avoid fidgeting, rocking or swiveling. If standing, stand still. Animation is fine if it's confined to voice and facial expressions.

SPEAKING STYLE

Use plain-spoken, conversational language. Keep it brief, and try to restate your main point more than once. Remember, few "sound bites" (quotes) are longer than 8 to 20 seconds long. Mention Catholic University in your sound bite to ensure your affiliation with CUA is not edited out of the story.

"AMBUSH TACTICS"

If presented with an unexpected or "hostile" question while on camera, try not to reflect anger or annoyance with your voice. Simply say you are not prepared to answer the question at this time, or indicate the question is not in your area of scholarly expertise. Avoid the phrase “no comment;” it has become associated with guilt.

QUESTIONS?

Additional media training is available on request. For more information contact the Office of Public Affairs by calling 202-319-5600 or by e-mail at: cua-public-affairs@cua.edu.