When a Reporter Calls
Why work with the news media?
- The public's perception of Binghamton University is influenced by news coverage of the campus, its faculty and staff. Media coverage can be an effective way to help inform people about the University, its aspirations and accomplishments. Contributing to stories in the media can foster understanding and support, benefiting the University.
What should you do when you receive a call from a reporter?
Before the interview
- Determine the scope of the interview and the audience. Get the reporter's name, the publication or broadcast station and phone number and ask: What is the story about? How can you help? What is the deadline? Who else has the reporter spoken to or plans to speak with? Will it be a phone or in-person interview? Will it be live or taped?
- Determine if you are the appropriate spokesperson. If not, refer the reporter to Communications and Marketing at (607) 777-2174.
- Gather facts, statistics and other background information
- Develop a few key messages and use them throughout the interview, regardless of the questions you're asked.
- Anticipate difficult questions and rehearse your answers. Check in with the media relations staff in Communications and Marketing. They are experienced in preparing talking points and rehearsing responses.
- Keep in mind the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governing privacy, and other restrictions
- Determine the interview location - your office; on campus; or in a studio?
- What kind of visuals are available?
- Say your messages, facts and possible questions with your answers out loud; repeat several times.
- Bounce your answers off Communications and Marketing staff or a colleague, or tape yourself.
- If you are asked questions that you do not wish to respond to, address them briefly and transition to the key points you want to make.
General interview tips
- Introduce yourself to the reporter and offer a brief background.
- Briefly explain what you are going to say.
- State your position in positive terms. Don't repeat negative words from the reporter's questions or fan any controversy.
- Keep your responses simple and concise so there is less chance of being misquoted. Avoid technical terms or jargon.
- Be friendly, but don't be lulled into flippancy, speculation or forced humor.
- There is no such thing as "off the record." Assume that everything you say to a reporter, even in a social situation, may appear in print.
- Remember that everything said within earshot is game for a story. The moment a microphone is attached to your lapel or clothing, assume it is recording.
- Don't accept a reporter's facts or characterizations of others as true.
- Don't answer hypothetical questions.
- Avoid "no comment" answers. They suggest that you are hiding something or evading the question. Instead, try to explain why you cannot make a comment.
- Don't answer questions you're not qualified to answer.
- Remember that audiences -- particularly television viewers -- are won over by the attitudes of those interviewed. Be knowledgeable, sincere, compassionate and energetic.
- Watch your body language, voice and posture - and remember to make eye contact.
- Always be honest. If you don't know an answer to a question, say so.
- Don't expect a reporter to show you a story before it is published; it conflicts with journalistic ethics and professionalism. If you fear a point has not been understood, ask the reporter to repeat it. Encourage a follow-up phone call for clarification or additional information if necessary. If you're still concerned, ask the reporter to read you only your quotes once the story has been written.
- If you're misquoted, try to contact the reporter rather than the editor. Don't overreact, especially if the error is minor or not quite the choice of words you would have used.
Television Interview Tips
- Look in the mirror. Crooked ties or smudged lipstick distract viewers from hearing your message.
- Dark clothes look best on TV. Blue shirts look better than white. Avoid checked, heavily patterned or striped shirts and ties.
- Remember you are representing Binghamton University. Don't wear clothes with the insignia of another organization or university.
- Note whether the backdrop is appropriate. You don't want a plant or wall sconce "growing" out of your head.
- Before the interview starts, find out what questions will be asked so you can prepare your responses.
- If possible, sit instead of stand, but sit still if you are in a swivel chair.
- Look at the reporter, not at the camera.
- Talk clearly, in short phrases.
- Try not to talk too fast.
- Don't repeat a reporter's negative terms or phrasing.
- You are not obligated to respond to a negative question.
- If you are asked to "chat" while the camera person shoots "B" roll (non-interview footage, cutaway shots, etc.), be sure your body language and comments are appropriate.