Yes, when a member of the news media contacts you for expert comment, you may answer questions immediately, if so desired. The decision to grant an interview is yours.
But if you feel the questions are outside your area of expertise—or if you’re asked to comment or provide information on an institutional question or an issue that relates to the entire institution—please refer the reporter to the Communications Office.
Don’t feel under pressure to speak immediately to the reporter if you’d like to gather your thoughts.
Consider taking the following steps:
(1) Ask the reporter if you can call back in 10 or 15 minutes;
(2) Obtain the reporter’s name and telephone number;
(3) Ask about the reporter’s deadline; and
(4) Try to return the call in 10 minutes or so—or else you may end up playing phone tag or miss the opportunity to be included in the story.
Even when commenting within your area of expertise, taking a few moments will allow you to decide on key points you want to make. Anticipate likely questions. Jot down a few talking points.
You may contact the Communications Office to get any information a staff member may have about the reporter, the angle the story is likely to take, other stories the reporter may be researching or writing at the time, and any other background information that may be helpful in advance of the interview.
Media representatives often work under deadlines. But they sometimes have the time to email questions in advance. If a reporter is referred initially to Communications Office, the staff can ask the reporter to provide a general idea of his or her area of interest and to offer at least a few questions.
Do not say ANYTHING to the reporter that you do not want printed or broadcast. There is no safety in speaking “off the record,” “for background,” or “not for attribution.” It is ALL on the record.
That being said, sometimes a reporter will call a faculty member or administrator for background information about a complex issue. Even though the information you provide may not appear in the media, it is important for a faculty member or administrator to take calls like this one because your willingness to help encourages the reporter to contact you or another AAU employee in the future for comments. Building relationships with reporters is a key aspect of promoting the University in the news media.
Before conducting the interview, think about the subject and develop a few key points that you want to convey. It is helpful if they are communicated in a short, concise way in order to be quotable. During the interview, keep answers succinct, but do not respond with “yes” or “no” answers – such responses are not likely to appear in print or in a broadcast. And, it’s ok to have notes in front of you for the interview.
It’s the reporter’s job to ask the tough questions. Don’t get defensive or lose your temper. If your topic is controversial, it’s helpful to anticipate the most difficult questions that could be asked and have responses prepared. Also, if you are confronted with a difficult or possibly negative or off-track question, bring the reporter back to your key points by responding with a positive statement that includes a fact followed by a key message. When you answer, don’t repeat a negative question. Steer answers back to your talking points by saying, “What’s important to remember is…” or “What I can tell you is…”
If you are asked a run-on question, answer individual questions one at a time or choose the part that you want to answer. You can always repeat the question back to the reporter to ensure you correctly understood and fully responded to the question.
Remember to respond to questions in a way that will be understood by a general audience. If you are talking about a complex issue, try to use a metaphor to relate the information to something everyone is familiar with. Also, avoid using culturally, sexually, or politically insensitive language or anecdotes – it’s easy to be quoted out of context.
Finally, make sure the reporter has the correct spelling of your name, your title, and the full name of the University.
Yes. Never try to fool a reporter. Say only what you want to say. Better than saying “no comment” is explaining why you cannot answer. If a reporter’s questions indicate he has some misinformation, please offer clarification.
If you’re unsure of an answer to a question, do not guess and do not speak for another person. Do offer to get the information or refer the reporter to someone who knows the answer or who can gather the information.
Here are a few things you might consider doing to improve the likelihood that you’ll be quoted accurately:
You are free to ask the reporter questions. Who else a reporter is talking to? When will coverage be broadcast or published?
If you choose to speak with a journalist, please alert Communication staff immediately after the conversation.
The Communications Office tracks the progress of all AAU-related stories to help reporters find sources and gather facts. Knowing to whom a reporter has talked will assist in the tracking process, and it allows the office to provide the reporter with all pertinent information.
The most important thing to remember for radio or television interviews is to speak in sound bites. Before the interview, develop a few points that you want to convey in the interview and prepare to communicate them concisely. Consider rehearsing your comments. It’s also important to use words that a general audience will understand and not to speak in jargon. (Vivid, descriptive quotes can be beneficial.)
In a television interview, make sure you are comfortable before the interview so that you do not fidget on camera. Also, do not swivel or rock in your chair, engage in nervous movements (like clicking a pen), or chew gum. Dress in a dark, solid top/shirt/jacket, and avoid flashy jewelry in order to present a professional appearance on camera.
When on camera, it’s important to have a conversation with the interviewer and not the camera. It will make you look more at ease, and it will help to quell any nerves you may have. Remember that any comments – even those made when cameras or tape recorders are not rolling – can be used as part of the story, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to appear on air.
In a live radio interview, it’s important that you know if the reporter/station will call you – or if you’re supposed to call in yourself, and at what time the phone call will take place. Finally, broadcast news often changes depending upon the day’s breaking news. Do not take it personally if your interview is bumped or canceled.
You should promptly notify the Communication staff of any concern you may have.
If warranted, Communications Office can bring a problem to the attention of the reporter, which may help ensure the reporter does not repeat the error in the future. In certain cases, Communication staff might request a clarification or even a correction, depending on the circumstances.
Remember, too, that reporters do not write headlines or photo captions. Usually an error in one of those places has been made by someone who is not as familiar with the story.
Often, a reporter will use information that you provide as background to help him write about a complex issue he may know little about. Also, though a reporter may quote you in the article, your quote may later be deleted by an editor to make room for breaking news or because of other space considerations.
Regardless, consider every interview as a step in establishing a relationship with the reporter. If you were prompt to respond to a reporter’s call or email and were helpful in providing information, the reporter is more likely to call you again when he needs an expert in your area. And that could lead to more exposure for you and AAU in the future.
No, you don’t have to speak to reporters. You may have a very demanding schedule. But if you do have time to speak to a media representative, media coverage can provide benefits to you and your academic department or program, as well as the University in such areas as student and faculty recruitment, institutional prominence/name recognition, and fundraising. If you don’t have time to talk, please inform the reporter or a Communication staff member right away so that the reporter can find another source for his or her story.
For more information, contact:
Ato Netsanet Yilma, Head, Communications Office (CO)
Office of the President
Addis Ababa University
Tel: +251(111) 239705
Fax: + 251 (111) 235068