Working With the Media:Reporter Calls
Preparing for Interview
During the Interview
The InterviewCaltech faculty often are called for information or expertise by the news media. These general suggestions were assembled by the Purdue News Service to help with the interviews.
Write down the reporter's name and the name of the station or publication he or she
represents. Ask the nature of the story being written and the deadline.
Answer or return the call from the media as quickly as possible. You are not, however,
expected to give the interview on the spot. When possible, ask the reporter to call
you back in 15 minutes. That will give you enough time to collect your thoughts and
Ask the reporter to interview you in person, if possible. A journalist's body language
often can tell if he or she is understanding you.
Determine in advance the information you want to convey. Don't limit your responses
to the reporter's questions. Prepare and rehearse two or three succinct points you
want to make.
Be brief. Whether print or broadcast, the media generally can use only 20 seconds
of material from you, tops. Think in terms of three or four sentences.
In preparing for the interview, especially if it concerns research, try to frame answers
to some of the following questions, in a language that would interest your brother-in-law:
Prepare and mentally assemble supporting material: facts, personal experience, contrast
and comparison, analogy, definition, statistics, examples.
Keep responses colorful. Reporters are looking for the unusual, colorful and dramatic
Personalize. Reduce facts and figures to people. Prepare an example involving one
Have a stable of phrases to use to buy time to think during the interview.
Keep your answers brief. Less is more. Make your point briefly and stop, unless you
want to bridge to another topic. If you are not brief, your response will be edited,
which can distort the meaning.
Don't be fooled by silence. Sometimes reporters remain silent at the end of your remarks,
hoping you will continue, possibly stumbling into information you'd just as soon
Most reporters are generalists. Their knowledge about Caltech, higher education issues
and your research is limited. Sometimes they have been briefed for only a few minutes.
Consequently, reporters often don't know the best questions to ask and don't mind
if you subtly help rephrase or redirect their questions. Bridging phrases that are
Repeat important points, especially for sensitive or controversial issues. Speak slowly
and spell difficult words and names when appropriate. Repeat figures, and if they
are sensitive, ask the reporter to repeat them to you.
When dealing with a question you'd rather not handle at the moment, you should always
address the question, but you don't have to answer it. If you do answer, keep it
short. In either case, move on quickly:
Beware of hypothetical questions. They make dramatic headlines, but don't relay the
Don't bluff. If you don't know, say so. If the information is important to the story,
be sure to give it to the reporter before he/she leaves, if possible, and for certain
before the story goes to press or runs on the air.
If you don't know the answer, use that as an opportunity to bridge to one of the points
you did want to make.
When speaking in an official capacity, it usually is best not to give personal opinions.
However, if you decide to do so, be sure the reporter understands that you are speaking
for yourself, not for your colleagues or the University.
Stick to your general area of expertise. Refer the journalist to a more appropriate
expert if necessary.
In general, do not make off-the-record comments. Avoid saying anything you don't want
to see on the evening news. If you do go off-the-record, be sure to:
Stay alert for a reporter who has a preconceived point of view or an ax to grind.
Beware of the reporter who asks the same question several different ways or who puts
words into your mouth and asks if you agree.
If the tenor of the interview leaves you feeling uneasy, you might conclude by stating,
"Here is the point I wish to emphasize."
If you have reason to be concerned about being misquoted, tape record the interview.
Be sure to place the recorder where the reporter can see it.
If the interview is coming to an end and you have not made an important point, be
bold and tell the reporter you would like to make one last point, and do it!
Ask the reporter a question or two near the end of the interview. You may be able
to tell from the answers whether your remarks were understood.
Don't ask to read a print reporter's copy. Do offer to answer follow-up questions
If the reporter or you make a serious mistake in a story that has already been published
or aired, contact the News Service and the proper steps will be taken to have the
Also available: "Working With the Media: Radio and Television Interviews,"