What To Do If A Reporter Calls

Duke’s Office of News and Communications offers the following tips for print and broadcast interviews:

  • If you need help – ask. If you’ve received a call from a reporter and have any questions or concerns about how to respond, contact us at the Office of News and Communications, 684-2823.
  • Don’t feel rushed. If a reporter calls and you are caught off-guard or are preoccupied with another task, ask to call back so you can gather your thoughts. Remember, though, that reporters’ deadlines are often measured in minutes; if you agree to be interviewed, you must respond quickly.
  • Identify the reporter. If you agree to an interview, write down the reporter’s name, media outlet and contact information. If you have any doubts about the reporter’s identity, contact the Office of News and Communications.
  • Decide What You Want to Say. Many academics view their objective in an interview as avoiding saying anything foolish. That’s important, certainly, but you may not accomplish much with such a defensive approach. You should also view the interview as an opportunity to communicate what you want to say. Before you begin, decide what two or three key points you want to get across, and have both data and human examples ready to highlight each one. Be sure to make these points during the interview, even if the reporter doesn’t ask about them.
  • Provide background information. You can help the reporter – and minimize errors – by offering to provide background information on complex topics. This can include material from other sources.
  • Prepare for difficult questions. Anticipate difficult questions and prepare responses to them. Never say, “No comment.” Instead, explain why you can’t or won’t answer the question.
  • Give simple, direct answers. Be brief.┬áReporters likely will use short quotes, clips or sound bites. Avoid jargon and explain the topic as simply as possible. It’s best to avoid flippant or joking comments that sound acceptable in conversation but might be taken out of context.
  • Nothing is “off the record.”┬áDon’t say anything you don’t want to read in the newspaper or see on the evening news, even when the formal interview seems to have ended and you are just chatting with the reporter.
  • Ask questions. Although reporters are unlikely to let you review a story before it’s published or aired, they may let you verify specific information or quotes. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Give feedback. If a reporter makes a major mistake, call the publication and ask for a correction. If the mistake is minor, it may be better to let it go. If you have any questions about whether the issue should be pursued, contact the Office of News and Communications. If you feel the story is well done, let the reporter know that, too.