The University Media Relations & Digital Programming serves as both an initial point of contact for media members and a resource center for faculty, staff and students who request to represent UH through media interviews. This media training guide was created as a reference tool to use when preparing for interview opportunities and also to help make interviewees more comfortable and confident during the interview.
Your media relations representative can serve as an important resource for faculty and staff in response to media inquiries.
Available as a resource to help prepare for media interviews
- Helps anticipate reporter questions
- Helps communicate your message
- Offers insight to a reporter’s style and background
- Gathers available materials referenced by reporters during inquiries
- Conducts mock/videotaped interviews with faculty experts and provides feedback from session (advance notice required)
Importance of working with your media relations representative
- Coordinates overall effort, which helps everyone prepare for media inquiries
- Ensures consistency of institutional messages
- Provides information to others on campus who are contacted by the same reporters
- Could have important information on what the reporter has been asking others
If you are a faculty member, the University supports your interest in responding to media requests about subjects you are familiar with in your role as a faculty expert. The decision is yours to make. We encourage faculty to get involved in discussions about the issues of the day because it helps share knowledge and learning and helps position the University of Houston as the premier source of academic information for the Texas Gulf Coast region. Matters involving university-wide policy or position should always be referred to the University Media Relations & Digital Programming.
Most often, members of the media will first contact the University Media Relations to find an expert to comment on a specific topic. A media relations representative will contact you to verify your interest and availability before sending your information directly to a reporter. (Faculty interested in being available to media through our “experts list” need to contact UH Media Relations).
If a member of the media contacts you directly, and you grant an interview, please call or send an e-mail to one of the media relations contacts to keep the office informed. It is important that all UH-related media placements are tracked. You may also contact media relations if you have any questions or concerns about interacting directly with the media.
Why Talk to the Media?
One of the most effective ways of reaching prospective and current students, alumni and the community at large is through the media. Media coverage can help improve the University’s reputation and enhance its standing within the community.
Specifically, media coverage can:
- Keep UH top of mind in the community
- Position UH as the foremost knowledge source in our region
- Let your peers know what you are up to, which can lead to great relationships with other professors, government agencies, the private sector and other nonprofit organizations and foundations
- Help raise additional donations or funding for research
- Help to raise the public profile of your discipline and increase public discussion of your area of research
- Help raise your own personal profile, establishing your reputation as a recognized expert or commentator in the field
Understanding the Media
The media generally works under extremely tight deadlines, usually turning around stories in a matter of hours or even minutes. It is not uncommon for a media relations representative or a reporter to contact you and arrange an interview the same day a story is due. Do not panic if such a media request occurs. Always ask what the reporter’s deadline is. Your respect for their deadlines will leave a lasting impression.
Declining an Interview
It is OK to decline a media interview request. In certain instances other UH spokespeople may be more qualified or knowledgeable with the particular topic area. Please contact our office to suggest another representative who may be able to accommodate the media request.
YOU are the Expert
Remember, unless this is an in-depth piece the reporter has been researching for months, most reporters will only have a limited working knowledge of their story. They are looking to you to be the expert voice in their story and will most likely look to you for background information.
You have the right to refuse an interview, however it is not appropriate to ask a reporter to preview his/her copy or story prior to its release.
You are asked to work through the UH Media Relations when addressing any issues of retraction before contacting the reporter or publication directly.
Responses: Email & On-Camera Issues
Some reporters will agree to an email interview for print stories, however most journalists prefer or may require will need to talk to their subjects/experts. If you are making yourself available to a television reporter, know that the interview will be on-camera. If you are making yourself available to a radio reporter, know that your audio will be recorded.
Live or Tape?
If you are conducting a television interview, most times it will be taped and your sound bites will be edited into the final package. If you are asked to make a studio appearance, it will most likely be live or live-to-tape, meaning the segment will air in its entirety without editing, but at a later time.
Preparing for an Interview
Understand the Topic
Before the interview, ask what the story is about and what the interviewer specifically wants to discuss. Develop a good understanding of your interview topic. Then, take time to prepare several key points worth emphasizing during the interview. If the topic is controversial, think about the most difficult questions you might be asked and prepare some responses.
Identify Talking Points
Once you know the topic, choose three key talking points that you can fall back on. Choose points that you can make in 15-20 seconds that you think are most important to the story.
Have background materials (facts or statistics) available for members of the media, particularly on a complex topic. Reporters will appreciate the additional information when writing their story. If time permits, offer to e-mail background materials in advance. If you are asked for images or video related to your topic, work with your media relations representative. Images to be used for either print or broadcast media must be “high resolution”. If you have a particularly large image (example: 10MB or higher), use a file-sharing tool such as Dropbox to share it or consult with your media relations representative. Large files can often wreak havoc on email in-boxes. The same rules apply for videos footage. Work with the University Media Relations to submit video that is associated with your topic.
Delivering Your Message
Be sure to practice delivering your message in a clear and concise manner. Short answers provide better sound bites for radio and television and better quotes for print. Remember to emphasize your key points. Reinforce them with examples. Review your talking points just before the interview or consider asking a colleague to discuss the topic with you to help you warm up and focus your answers. Answer first. Elaborate if needed or asked.
Questions in Advance
It is appropriate to discuss the subject matter with the reporter prior to the interview so that you have an understanding of the subject matter and are prepared. You may ask for questions or broad talking points they wish to discuss in advance, but not all reporters will oblige. Most experienced reporters treat interviews like a natural conversation, so there is no concrete set of questions. Take your cues from your conversation with the reporter or from the media inquiry prior to your interview. You may say ‘I want to be prepared, are there any specific questions or talking points you’d like me to address?’ Your media relations representative can also help you anticipate questions.
Confidence and Composure
It’s normal to be nervous. Remember, an interview is really just a conversation with another individual. Act as if you’re talking to a co-worker or a friend. Practice your confidence and composure. A media relations representative can go through a mock interview with you, if requested.
- Wear dark and solid jackets. White jackets may make you appear washed out and may be troublesome for some studio cameras.
- A blue or white shirt under a dark blazer will look best. If not wearing jacket, avoid white shirts.
- For TV interviews, it’s helpful to have a jacket/lapel to attach your microphone and a waistband for your microphone pack.
- Avoid busy patterns and small suit patterns (ex. tight pinstripes, herringbone, and tight plaids).
- Jewelry should be small and discreet; avoid anything flashy, large, shiny or noisy earrings/necklaces.
- Camera lights can get VERY hot, causing some interviewees to sweat. Undershirts and blazers/lab coats can help hide any sweat that may bleed through your shirt.
Control the Interview
You are in control of the interview. If a reporter asks you a difficult question, practice using bridging and flagging techniques to bring the conversation back to your key points.
- What I really want to talk about is …
- Let me answer you by saying that …
- If you look at it closely you’ll find ….
- I don’t know. But what I do know is …
- The real issue here is …
- The bottom line is …
- The main point I want to stress is …
- What’s really critical here is …
During an Interview
Prompt and Honest Answers
Reporters expect prompt responses and honest answers. It is OK not to have an answer for every question. However, avoid responding with “No comment.” A reporter will assume that you are trying to hide something and probe deeper into the subject. “I don’t know, that is not my area of expertise” or “Let me see what I can find out and get back with you” is an appropriate response.
Speak in Sound Bites
Provide short, but complete answers. Speak in ‘sound bites.’ Answer first, explain second (follow up with explanation if absolutely necessary). Make your point, and move on to the reporter’s next question. If the reporter needs further explanation they will follow up. Incorporating the subject of the reporter’s question into your response can help keep your response in context. It makes for a concise sound bite for the reporter to use.
Know Your Audience
Do not use ‘jargon’; speak in language your audience will understand. Most often you will be speaking to a reporter with a layman’s audience and your language should reflect that. If you are speaking with a highly technical trade journal about a very specific issue, it’s OK to be more technical. Bottom line, know your audience and adjust accordingly.
You are the expert in your academic field. Speak to the statistics, facts, data, research, etc. Be careful not to place your own value judgment on a particular topic. This is especially true when you are speaking about divisive and polarizing issues. Keep your perspective academic when you are speaking as a university expert.
Be a Good Listener
Pay full attention to the interview and his/her questions. Use the interviewer’s name. Never hesitate in asking the reporter to repeat or clarify a question.
Use subtle hand gesture and body movements to emphasize your key messages. Look at the reporter while being interviewed, not the camera. Unless otherwise instructed, always pretend as though the camera is not even there.
Always remain calm during an interview. Never become defensive toward a question. Once again, it is OK not to answer the question. However, avoid responding with, “No comment.” A reporter will assume you are trying to hide something and probe deeper into the subject. Try to return the conversation to positive dialogue.
‘I Don’t Know’
If you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it or speculate.
- “I don’t know the answer to that but what I do know is …”
- “I do not know the answer, but I will be glad to research it and get back to you.”
- “That is not my area of expertise.”
- “I have not seen the data or report that you are referring to.”
- “I’m not in a position to speak to that.”
Nothing is “Off the Record”
Assume that nothing is “off the record.” No matter how informal the setting, reporters will take for granted that everything said to them is on the record and quotable. Although many reporters may honor this request, not all of them will adhere to it. If you do not want people to know about something, do not say it.
Mention the University of Houston!
If appropriate, mention UH during the interview. ‘UH’ or the ‘University of Houston’ is preferred to ‘UofH’.
Concluding the Interview
Once the interview has concluded, it is OK to ask when the story will air or be printed. Timing is usually up to the editors or news directors. It is OK to ask the reporter to send you a link once it is published. Again, it is not appropriate to ask for advanced approval of the final product.
UH Media Coaching
University Media Relations is available to assist you in media training and interview preparation.
Training consists of:
- Review of Media Training Guide
- On-Camera Interview
- Q&A with Media Representative
- Review of Live Interview
- Sound bite Exercises
- Evaluation and Coaching