On the Art of Doing Media Interviews (Print edition)
Like most academics, I dread doing media interviews. I worry incessantly that I'll say the wrong thing or, worse yet, that I'll say the right thing and generate some social media outrage. Let's be honest: this #CrimComm stuff is not the for the faint of heart. This is why, when I started out, I did what any self-respecting academic would do and I turned to experts for advice and read up on media relations. Here are some of the things I learned from books, other academics and through experience:
Figure out what you want to say - You almost always have some time before the interview to think about what you want to say. Reflect on the questions (you usually get some inkling of what will be asked) and then figure out what your particular contribution will be.
Practice what you want to say - Run your ideas through a few times before you pick up the phone. I usually take my dogs for a 20 minute walk, which allows me time to noodle through my thoughts on the topic.
Come up with a 'quotable' - Every reporter likes a pithy sound bite they can include in the story, so provide one. In a recent interview, I described policing in most of Canada as being 'held together with bits of string, glue and paper clips.' This is both accurate and quotable.
No matter what they ask, you decide how you want to answer - recently, when a reporter started out with a general question, I laughed and said, 'I'm a typical academic, so I'm going to answer with what I want to say.' He laughed too.
Don't feel obligated to answer every question posed - I get asked things sometimes that I'm not equipped to answer. Any time I try, it sounds stupid. Learn from my follies.
If you say something that sound like nonsense, own it - Sometimes I give answers that sound like disconnected ramblings. When that happens, I apologize for the lack of clarity and offer to try again.
Don't get upset when the dogs start barking - I tell reporters upfront that I'm at home with two dogs, two cats and a husband. You can bet we will be interrupted. During the last interview, a cat knocked down the dog fence, which startled the dogs and started them fighting with each other. I just laughed and broke up the fight. What else can you do?
Afterwards, don't spend the next 5 hours mulling over the interview - yes, it's a good idea to review an experience in order to draw lessons for the future, but give yourself a hard cutoff point to avoid self-flagellation. I realize you're an academic - which means you likely tend to skew higher on the neuroticism scale - but this way madness lies.
- Laura Huey,
University of Western Ontario