Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tips for talking to journalists

A few times in my life, I've done interviews for radio or video journalists. Even though Kevin Paidain thinks his tips are "rudimentary", I didn't know them. I think they work for any context, not just a science interview. Here's an excerpt (emphases mine):
The Loom : Madam Speaker, I Yield My Remaining Time to the Paleontologist from the Great State of California

... Scientists can "control" an interview better if they keep things to a few oft-repeated points, speak in plain English with colorful (but not distorting) language and use analogies and metaphors, and be upbeat. Speak in reasonably short sound bites. (Randy Olson of Flock of Dodos has a good list on this.) In a film interview, don't necessarily answer the question asked if it is not a good one (they seldom play the question in the film) but rather say what you want to say that's more or less on the topic. That actually helps the interviewer more. Repeat as necessary until the point is made, and made effectively. You might say something in a film interview but not very well, so they won't use it. Do it again. They'll wait.

Some rules: always say "off the record" in advance. Be clear when you're going back on the record. Ask in advance to check quotes (this is reasonable) but it is not reasonable to ask to edit the article. Remember that the article is what the reporter says, not what the scientist says, and yes, they do have license to interpret. It's kosher to ask what the angle of the story is early in the game, so you don't waste time explaining stuff that the reporter doesn't need (they usually don't cut you off)...
Personally I'd also recommend to write down what your key points are in advance - especially for a phone interview. It's handy to have a reference.

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