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Working with the media

To all McGill faculty who are contacted by the media, please consider the following suggestions. If you have any questions before responding to a media query, do not hesitate to contact us for further advice.

When a reporter calls

  • Return the call as quickly as possible; there's no point commenting once the deadline has passed.
  • Clarify the subject of the interview and the depth of the information that the reporter needs. Ask about the news affiliation; who else the reporter is contacting; the location and estimated length of the interview if it is to be held at another time; the caller's phone number; and the deadline.
  • If the reporter wishes to tape you over the phone, don't hesitate to say you'd like to collect your thoughts first. Be sure to call back well before his/her deadline.

Preparing for an interview

  • Remember that in most cases, you're communicating to a general audience, not an academic one. Express your ideas in simple, evocative terms and try to illustrate complex or abstract concepts by translating them into everyday metaphors, e.g., "The pulsar we discovered spins 500 times faster than the blades of a kitchen blender."
  • Focus on three to five key points and practice getting them across in short bites. Emphasize the most important ones first.
  • Think about the most difficult or controversial question that might come up and have an answer prepared.
  • Review your facts, statistics, or background information. Keep notes handy for phone interviews and ensure the material is well organized, so you are prepared but not over-rehearsed.
  • For cameras, wear comfortable clothes in solid shades and a minimum of jewelry or anything else that might distract the viewer's eye. Dark colours are best.
  • Avoid using culturally, sexually, or politically insensitive language or anecdotes.
  • Check to be sure the reporter has your correct name and McGill department, and knows where the University is located.
  • Do consult the Media Relations Office if you want assistance.

During the interview

  • Answer truthfully. Don't lie, guess, or exaggerate; if you don't know, say so in a friendly way. Don't sound defensive.
  • State important facts first and remember your key points. Use examples.
  • Speak in conversational terms, be brief and non-technical. Keep in mind that 10-second sound bites are the building blocks of TV news stories. Too many "ums" and "aahs" will make your voice clip unusable.
  • In a radio call-in show, have blank paper ready to make notes while the caller is speaking. Be ready to signal to the host that you're prepared to comment or answer the question.
  • Never speak off the record and assume that everything you say from the moment the conversation starts could be quoted. Correct the record if the reporter has wrong information.