Tips for Dealing with the Media

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Office of Communications
law_news@unc.edu
919.843.7148
After-hours cell (for reporters and interviewees on deadline): 919.423.2536

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 who the reporter is, do some light research or contact the Office of Communications. Please notify the office when you speak to the media; it helps us track our appearances in the media, and it also helps us prepare for follow-up calls we may receive. If a call is being passed on from the communications office, you should have first received a call from our office with a request for the interview -- so you can safely assume that if you haven't heard from the communications office first, then we are unaware of the interview request.

Don't feel rushed, but do respond quickly.
Keep in mind that a news reporter may be working against a clock to meet daily deadlines on a number of stories. You'll need to respond quickly, but not at the expense of taking the time to compose your thoughts and do any research necessary to better answer the questions. If a reporter calls and you dealing with another task or are uncomfortable answering without preparation, ask if you can call back. Consider asking a few questions that will help you prepare your responses. Gather your thoughts and make notes about any key points you want to cover. Then, promptly return the call.

Always respond.
Keep in mind that not returning a call may imply indifference or defensiveness. Remember that occasionally reporters include in their stories that a source didn't return a call. Just because you don't want to be interviewed doesn't mean you shouldn't return the call. Let a reporter know why you're unable to be interviewed or why you may not be the right source. If you are uncomfortable returning the call, provide the communications office with the contact information for the reporter and let us do that for you.

Know what you want to say.
Use the interview as an opportunity to communicate what you want to say. You've been called on this issue because you're recognized as being an expert on the topic. Before you begin, decide what key points you want to get across - regardless of whether reporter asks about them. Have data and examples ready.

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. If you receive questions about the school in general or about an issue facing another office or center, consider passing along the reporter's name and contact info to the Office of Communications for one of us to follow up.

Remember that you are speaking on behalf of yourself.
Your answers reflect your own opinions, and you want to use caution about sounding as if you're answering on behalf of a center, school, university or other person.

Provide background information.
Determine how much the interviewer knows about the subject. You can help a reporter develop a better -- and more accurate -- story by providing background information on complex topics. This can include material from other sources.

Prepare for difficult questions -- and don't guess.
Anticipate difficult questions and prepare responses to them. Never say, "No comment." Instead, explain why you can't or won't answer the question. Remember that anything you say may be documented, and be widely available, for a long time. Never speculate.

Be brief. Reporters are likely to use short, snappy quotes, so get to the point quickly. Avoid words that the reader or listener may not understand, and explain the topic as simply as possible.

Avoid joking. Comments that sound acceptable in conversation can be taken out of context, and you don't to be portrayed as dismissive or uncaring.

Nothing is "off the record."
Don't say anything you don't want to read in the newspaper or see on the evening news. Whether you're providing background or just chatting, you could be quoted.

Ask questions.
Although reporters are unlikely to let you review a story before it's published, they may let you verify quotes or other details, especially complicated issues. It doesn't hurt to ask. They may also be willing to tell you when you can expect the story to be published.

Provide feedback and keep in touch.
Call the publication and ask for a correction if a reporter makes a major mistake, but keep in mind that it may be better to let it go if the mistake is minor. If you're unsure whether the issue should be pursued, contact the Office of Communications. And, if you think the story was done well, let the reporter know. Then, keep track of the reporter's contact information so that you can alert him the next time you have a a newsworthy development related the topic.

UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106


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