When a Reporter Calls
Office of Communications and Marketing
For additional tips on speaking with reporters, please see "Television Interviewing Tips."
- When a reporter calls, ask his/her name and media affiliation. Find out what the article is about and exactly what the reporter needs from you. If you want more information about a story before responding to a request for an interview, contact the Communications Office at (601) 974-1034. We will contact the reporter for you and get the information you need. As well, if you are uneasy about responding to a reporter's questions, let the Communications Office know, and we'll be happy to help. In some cases, we may recommend that a college spokesperson publicly address a sensitive matter.
- Have a specific message and always think before you speak. Prepare a few message points and practice different ways of reiterating those points. During interviews, people tend to ramble and end up saying something they wish they hadn't. Having your message points handy will ensure that you get your point across.
- Don't race: speak slowly, in short, concise sentences. State your position in simple, easy-to-understand language. Use everyday examples and analogies when appropriate.
- If you feel unprepared to answer a reporter's question, say so. If you need a quick break to collect your thoughts, tell the reporter you will call him/her back in fifteen minutes. Take the time to think about how you want to respond, and then follow through with your promise to provide expert comments.
- Remember, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with saying that you do not know the answer to a reporter's question. Unless you are positive that the information is correct, do not offer it. Reporters have no problem with a source saying that he or she is unsure of something. They do, however, have a problem with a source saying something that is later determined incorrect. You will lose all credibility with the reporter, and very likely the reporter will share the experience with his/her colleagues.
- Respect reporters' deadlines. Please return all calls from the media and the Public Relations Office promptly, particularly in the case of television journalists who are working on very tight deadlines. If they are calling to give a subject near and dear to you (like your department or event) some nice coverage, you may miss your opportunity by waiting even an hour.
- Anticipate questions the reporter may ask and think about your answers. If the reporter frames his/her questions in a negative way, be sure to state your position in positive terms. If the questions are ones you'd prefer not to respond to, address them briefly and then move on to what you do want to say.
- Avoid using "no comment." If you think it would not be an appropriate time to answer a reporter's questions, explain why you are not able to give an answer and ask if there is any other way in which you could be helpful. "No comment" often comes across as an admission of guilt in the public arena.
- Avoid speaking "off the record." Promises from reporters to keep information off the record are routinely broken. If you don't want a statement quoted, then don't make it.
- Don't expect a reporter to show you a story before publication; it conflicts with journalistic ethics and professionalism. If you are concerned that the journalist hasn't understood your point, ask him/her to repeat your words back to you.
- Above all, be honest. Never try to mislead a reporter. If the reporter later discovers that you fudged on the truth, he/she will let the public know about it.