There are several reasons why a journalist might want to talk to a scientist like you. It could be your own published paper, or perhaps they want your opinion on another researcher’s work, or they’re just looking for background information on a topic related to your area of expertise. Our workbook SciComm for Researchers has an entire chapter about talking to the media, and how to find opportunities for media interviews, but here are just a few quick tips to make sure that you’re prepared when a journalist gets in touch.
- Have your key message ready. Make sure that your main message can be summarized in a few sentences, and know how you’re going to bring this point across.
- Think about the audience. Even if you’re speaking to a science journalist who understands your field, they’re working on a piece for an audience that might know nothing about it yet. Keep the audience in mind when you do the interview.
- Some journalists have a very short deadline. They may need to speak to a scientist that very day — either you or someone else. If you don’t have time right away, see if you can set aside a few minutes during a coffee break later that day, or refer the journalist to one of your colleagues to help them get a good source on their deadline.
Media interviews and getting quoted
When journalists interview scientists, they’re not only looking for information, but they’re hoping to get a good quote. Direct quotes from scientists give their piece more character, and it also gives you a chance to get your own words out. So when an interviewer asks you to describe or explain something, don’t say “it’s in the paper”, but explain it in your own words.
A lot of publications will not allow you to read over the piece before it is published. There are a few reasons for that: It takes too much time, and they don’t want sources (you!) to influence their reporting. However, you may be able to see your direct quotes before they’re included. Make sure to confirm with the journalist what the procedure of their publication is.
Who uses this?
- To practice thinking about your key message, COMPASS created a message box that many researchers have already used when talking about their research in various settings. There is a somewhat similar exercise in our own SciComm for Researchers workbook which is specifically tailored to interview preparation.
- In this Nature Careers article, several scientists talk about their own experience with media interviews.
- Several professional organisations have interview tips on their website. The AGU has mock interview questions you can use to practice, and the Academy of Medical Sciences has their own resource on how to prepare for interviews.