Being interviewed

There are several scenarios in which you may find yourself dealing with the media. These range from a conference at which you are delivering a paper, to a telephone call from a journalist asking about your own work or seeking guidance about some development in your field. If there is a choice, it is more satisfactory and reassuring to meet a journalist face-to-face than to respond to a voice on the telephone. Paradoxically, some of us are more easily tempted on the telephone into saying more than we would have wished.

A person may, on very rare occasions, be best advised not to speak to a journalist at all for example, one who has a long record of serious misrepresentation. There are obvious dangers in declining an interview, however. Bear in mind too that it is entirely reasonable that a journalist should wish to talk to you. Be very cautious about total refusal.

If you are tempted to decline an interview simply because you are busy and can scarcely spare the time, remember that the journalist will go elsewhere. He or she may turn to someone who is less qualified to speak with real authority on the subject. Either way, you may wish to seek guidance from a press officer in your organization.

Even when you are speaking to specialist reporters who cover your expertise regularly, remember that terms and ideas which are very familiar to you may be new to them and thus require careful explanation. A general reporter will know very little at all. So do not assume much knowledge on the part of the interviewer, and do not worry about "talking down" to a journalist. It is far better to do this than to use technical jargon without any explanation. Choose commonplace words wherever possible. If technical terms are unavoidable, explain them perhaps using metaphors or analogies to get over difficult concepts.

Keys to a Successful Interview or Statement:-

  • Be well briefed
  • Plan the points you wish to make and your responses to standard questions and arguments
  • If you are in doubt, be prepared to say "I don't know"
  • Be as open as possible and never lie
  • Do not say "No comment", there is always something more useful which can be said
  • Show concern if there is a genuine problem
  • Show your organisation is addressing the situation or issue
  • Be as positive as possible without sounding callous and uncaring
  • Beware of admiting liability
  • Have a list with contact details of trained spokes-people available to make statements on specific questions

Remember that a journalist is unlikely to stick solely to the speific topic of the interview. He or she may also pose questions about other related matters. In preparing for the interview, think about the questions a reader or listener would expect to be raised and to have answered.

The most satisfactory basis for an interview from the standpoint of both parties is "on the record". This means that the journalist can use and quote anything that you say. But there may be occasions when you prefer to conduct an entire interview, or part of it, "off the record" or "non-attributably". It is important to reach an unambiguous agreement in advance about the conditions of the interview. 99 journalists out of 100 will respect any form of confidence you agree. Never use the expression "No comment". There is always something less evasive that you can say.

Adopted from EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions of Biotechnology
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