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Tips for Working with the Media

If you are contacted by a reporter…

Remember that for the moment, you are representing the College, and that carries certain responsibilities. It’s also true that you have rights you may exercise in working with the media, and responsible reporters will understand that.

Please inform College Relations (609.771.2368) if you are contacted by the media. Let us know the reporter, the media outlet and the anticipated date the story will run.

Some suggestions…

  • Obtain the reporter’s name and publication or broadcast station and ask exactly how you can help him or her. Ask the date the story is expected to run. Are you the appropriate spokesperson? If you’re not, refer the reporter to someone who is or to the Office of College Relations, 609.771.2368.
  • Each person brings a different background when communicating with another about any issue. Words have different nuances and meanings in different disciplines. Remember that the reporter has very little training in your area of expertise, so things that are very apparent to you, may be difficult for a reporter to understand. It is helpful if you can fax background information if you have it available. It is also acceptable to ask the reporter to repeat back his or her understanding of what you just said to strive for greater accuracy.
  • Unprepared? Tell the reporter you will call back in 15 minutes or so. Collect your thoughts and then follow through on your promise to provide an interview. Have a message. Prepare a single communications objective and two or three secondary points you want to make, regardless of the questions you’re asked. See if you can find ways to bring these points into your answers.
  • Conflict is news; the routine isn’t. Reporters often frame their questions to bring out the conflict in a story. State your position in positive terms; don’t repeat any negative words in the reporter’s question. Don’t fan controversy unless you are prepared to deal with the results.
  • Anticipate the tough questions you may be asked and rehearse your answers. If they’re not the questions you’d prefer to respond to, address them briefly and segue to what you want to say.
  • Use simple language rather than technical terms. Speak in short sentences.
  • Be brief. Newspaper reporters can take more time in their interviews and present more information than can reporters from radio and TV. Eight seconds is the average length of a TV soundbite.
  • Be friendly, but don’t be lulled into flippancy or forced humor. Assume everything you say to a reporter may appear in print.
  • Respect reporters’ deadlines. Television competes with radio and other TV stations. Dailies compete with one another and television. Return phone calls promptly. In many cases, television reporters need a response in an hour. Newspapers need the story today, not tomorrow or next week.
  • Don’t expect a reporter to show you a story before publication; it conflicts with journalistic ethics and professionalism. If you fear a point has not been understood, ask the reporter to repeat it. Encourage a follow-up phone call for further clarification or additional information if needed. If you’re still concerned, ask the reporter to read you only your quotes once the story has been written.
  • If you’re misquoted, try to contact the reporter rather than the editor. But don’t overreact, especially if the error is minor or if the item is not a direct quote, but attributed to you and not quite the choice of words you would have used. If you want assistance in dealing with the reporter because you feel you have been misrepresented, contact the Department of College Relations.
  • Avoid “no comment” answers, which suggest that you are trying to hide something or evade the question. Try to explain why you cannot make a comment. (Litigation is always an appropriate reason not to comment.)
  • Remember that audiences (particularly television viewers) are won by the attitudes of those interviewed. Be knowledgeable, sincere, compassionate, and energetic.
  • Above all, be honest. In some cases, the truth may hurt, but lies are deadly. And if you don’t know an answer to a question, say so.

You’ve Got a Right…

  • To know who is interviewing you and what newspaper, magazine, television or radio station they represent.
  • To be treated courteously. The questions can be tough, but the reporter’s demeanor should not be abusive.
  • To physical comfort during the filming or taping of the interview–appropriate setting, chair, make-up, a glass of water.
  • To not be physically threatened by hand-held lights or microphones shoved into your face.
  • To make your own tape of an interview or to have someone such as a College Relations staffer in the room during an interview. You should inform the reporter of this in advance, however, as they may choose not to conduct the interview if you insist on having a third party present.
  • To ensure the security of your laboratory or office and protect it from damage from cameras or other equipment.
  • To get some of your points across in the interview. Don’t just answer the reporter’s questions. Use your messages. Tell your story.
  • To be quoted accurately.
  • To protect the privacy of yourself, your students or colleagues by withholding information that is not public.
  • To establish ground rules, such as time and location.
  • To terminate an interview if your rights are violated.

Public Information…

The College of New Jersey, as an agency of the state, is subject to open records laws. This means that many of the documents and records related to business conducted at TCNJ are open to public and media scrutiny.

For college employees, such information as name, date of hire, title, salary, office address and phone number and job description are all public information. Homes addresses and phone numbers, birth dates, relatives’ names and performance evaluations cannot be released without your permission.

Information regarding the College that pertains specifically to a case currently under litigation and some information relating to research or the commercialization of technology is not public.

If you receive a request for information and are unsure if it is a public document, contact College Relations. If we are unsure, we will consult with counsel.