The University of Waikato's Media Policy governs contact between staff and media. The guidelines provide additional practical information to help you work effectively with journalists.
Contacting the Communications Division
Communications is responsible for media relations at the University. We can assist you in a range of ways, including publicising your research, producing media releases, improving messaging, handling media enquiries and media training. Contact the team through [email protected] or the Director, Communications and Strategy, Duanna Fowler. Staff names and telephone numbers are listed in the online telephone directory.
Interacting with the Media
Should you do an interview?
Academic staff are actively encouraged to speak with the media on matters relating to their areas of academic expertise and do not need to seek approval to do so. Both academic and general staff may only make statements to the media on matters related to the University if they have been given explicit authority to do so by Communications or the Vice-Chancellor.
Media are more inclined to write a story that best reflects your position if they get a response within a reasonable time. In a fast paced media world the time period for a response is often very short, so be prepared to act decisively. However, don't be pressured into hasty responses. Journalists usually understand it will not always be possible to get the requested response or information within their time frame if the reason is explained to them.
Be proactive. If there is an issue in the news that you feel your work can help clarify expand or explain, then ask the Communications team about how you can engage in the discussion.
In a digital world virtually all media outlets use a variety of ways to present stories to audiences. If you are doing what was once referred to as a ‘newspaper’ interview, you will also appear on the organization’s websites and on social media. The newspaper journalist is just as likely to ask you for a video interview as a TV-based outlet is. The same applies to what were traditionally radio broadcasters.
No matter what medium the journalist is from you should be prepared for everything. Have a high quality digital image of yourself available to email if requested. Wear something appropriate in case you need to be photographed or filmed. If you have graphs, data visualizations or images of interesting field work, make them available in a common format. Also be prepared to do video interviews using Skype. The Communications team can help with this, if you are not familiar with how to use it to your advantage.
When preparing to deal with media, getting ready for an interview, or responding to a media request in your expert field decide what your main points or key messages are. Developing these messages helps you to focus on what is important. They need to be simple, clear, and concise. The journalist you are dealing with is probably in a hurry and and does not have a good understanding of your work. You are the expert in your field, and your job becomes translating that expertise into something a broad audience can understand.
Your messages need to be phrased in an interesting way, otherwise they will not be picked up. Don’t be afraid to use colourful but appropriate anecdotes to illustrate your points.
A useful practice is to write down your key messages with supporting notes beside them. Three points will be enough for all but extended interviews. Make your most important point first, as there may not be an opportunity to make it later. Repeat it if possible. Avoid referring to or looking down at notes during filmed or live video, if possible.
It is also a good idea to anticipate what difficult questions may be asked during an interview and how to respond. Don't assume media will want to stick to your agenda.
This is a great way to engage with wider audiences in your own words, but when using it, remember that everything you say is effectively a media release and in the public domain. A casual tweet can attract a lot of attention, even if you did not intend it to.
- Always make sure to find out who the journalist is and where they are from. This information can help you understand the likely media treatment of the issue. It may also help you to decide whether to give the interview at all.
- Before you answer questions find out what they want to know, who they've spoken to already and what others have said. Ask when their deadline is and when the story is likely to appear. If the journalist objects to your questions, explain politely that you're doing your job and want to approach any interview from an informed position.
- Respond to journalists calls promptly, but don’t feel obliged to give instant interviews unless you are prepared. Ask for little while to think about the matter and say you'll get back to the journalist by an agreed time. This means you can consult M&C or others if necessary, gather your thoughts, clarify information, and decide what you will say and what your key messages are. Ask someone to rehearse with you before you call back if you think this will help.
- Don’t say anything to a journalist you would not be happy to have reported. This includes casual jokes. Treat off-the-record comments with extreme caution, and avoid in most cases. The M&C team can be useful sources of advice if you think giving the journalist 'off the record' comment may be useful.
- Avoid saying no comment as it appears evasive or defensive. If there are issues including legal or commercial restrictions that prevent comment being made now, just say so. Try to be direct but helpful. "We can't comment in detail at the moment for commercial confidentiality reasons, but we will make an announcement once discussions are finished. We're committed to keeping people informed of developments as soon as possible."
- Avoid jargon. Explain things as simply as possible. While it can often be difficult to put complex subjects into simple language, if you don’t, the message will not be understood. Double check whether others understand the language and concepts you take for granted. Clear simple language is the most effective way to make sure that the audience understands what you are telling them and that you receive good coverage of your views and research.
- Don’t let the journalist put words into your mouth. Listen carefully to the questions you are being asked, and watch out for emotive phrases. Don’t simply agree with a journalist’s statement like “the idea is ridiculous, isn’t it?” unless you are happy to be quoted as saying it yourself. Watch out for questions that start with “so what you are saying is” for the same reason, but if it is a good summary make use of it.
- Don’t get engaged in slanging matches. It’s great to have a robust debate, but don’t fall into the trap of personal attacks or being aggressive rather than assertive. Take the higher ground if the other person is being confrontational.
- If you accidentally give out too much information or say something you later think is inappropriate, the M&C team can give you advice about what to do. Unless you are doing an opinion piece, it is extremely unlikely you will have any control over how your comments are reported, or have the right to change your comments, unless there is a factual inaccuracy.
- At the end of the interview make it easy for the journalist to get back in touch with you, so they can fact check. It also helps to establish a positive relationship that may be to your advantage in future.
Proactively managing bad news
When we know news with potentially negative connotations is coming up, it can be best to:
- Announce it ourselves in a way we control.
- Develop a strategy for what we will say once the news becomes public.
- Be ready to acknowledge fault or say sorry and spell out what, if anything, we will do to correct the situation or make amends.
M&C is available to help develop proactive or reactive media strategies.
Communications provides staff training on dealing with the media.
Contact: Duanna Fowler - Director, Communications and Strategy