Tips for Working with Media

News Media Guidelines

University Relations encourages and actively pursues media coverage for Clemson University by distributing news releases and story ideas, pitching faculty as sources of expertise on timely topics, scheduling one-on-one interviews with local and national reporters, and scheduling editorial board visits or news conferences when warranted. Information is also distributed directly to constituents and the public through RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email and the Web.
As a result of this activity and open-meeting laws, any faculty or staff member — intentionally or not — can become an on-the-record, quoted source of information for the news media — either by having a press release written about his/her work, serving as an expert source of information, making a presentation or participating in a discussion in an open meeting attended by reporters, or simply having a casual conversation with a reporter. 
Working with the news media can help Clemson achieve its goals of recruiting outstanding students, faculty and staff, disseminating the results of research, getting credit for the good work of faculty, staff and students, maintaining contact with alumni, and creating goodwill and support among influential people, which includes the general public of South Carolina.
This information is intended to ensure that interactions between Clemson faculty and staff and members of the press are positive ones that lead to the desired results. The keys to a successful media interview/interaction are knowing what to expect, deciding on your communications objectives in advance, and sticking to your key messages. Make the interview your forum for your message.

  • Understanding the News Media

    What makes a “good” story?

    • Does it matter to the average person (relevance to audience)?
    • Does it have a “news peg” or is it part of a larger trend?
    • Does it have “gee whiz” appeal?
    • Does it have emotional appeal?
    • Is it one of the six C’s — crime, catastrophe, crisis, corruption, conflict, color? (Old TV saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.”)

    What do reporters usually want?

    • A story (not just information)
    • The bottom line (instant analysis, a short sound bite)
    • To meet the deadline
    • To stick up for the little guy

    Some standard journalism practices

    • Reporters identify themselves as members of the press
    • Sources generally may not review stories in advance
    • Written documentation is highly desirable
    • Documents distributed/presented at public meetings are expected to be available to all in attendance, including media
  • Preparing for an Interview with a Reporter

    Before the interview

    1. Ask what the reporter wants to talk about; make sure you’re the best source.
    2. Decide on YOUR KEY MESSAGE — one or two key points you want to get across. This is the most critical part of the interview. Don’t “wing it.”
    3. Keep those key messages short.
    4. Do your homework:
      • Consult with Media Relations
      • Gather any printed materials in advance; create a fact sheet
      • Think of examples, analogies and (for TV) visuals
      • Anticipate questions (especially negative one) — Media Relations can help.

    During the interview:

    • Keep focusing on your key messages.
    • Give yourself time to think before you answer a question.
    • Don’t hesitate to say “I don’t know.”
    • Listen and seek feedback to make sure the reporter understands. Reporters will often paraphrase or summarize while talking to you. Listen carefully – the reporter is telling you how he/she will write the story. Correct any misperceptions or errors.
    • Flag your key points (“I’m glad you asked that,” or “That’s really the key point.”)
    • Speak slowly in short sentences; avoid acronyms, academic or scientific jargon.
    • Don’t say “no comment.”
    • Don’t go off the record and don’t make off-the-cuff remarks. If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.
    • Stop talking when you’ve answered the question.
    • Don’t repeat negative words that the reporter uses in a question.
    • End the interview with a key point.
    • Don’t ever lie.

    After the interview

    • If you need to clarify or correct a point, call immediately (the story may be on the web within minutes).
    • If an error appears in the story, call the reporter directly (Media Relations will handle this if desired).
    • Let the reporter know if he/she did a good job.
  • Special Notes

    Special notes for science/research stories:

    1. Start with the results -- the bottom line.
    2. Assume the reporter has no scientific background.
    3. Use examples and analogies.
    4. Humanize the research.
    5. Avoid scientific terms, academic jargon.
    6. Offer to review the story for technical accuracy (not style or content changes).

    Special notes for radio and TV interviews:

    1. Learn all you can about the program. Is it live? Will there be call-ins? If there’s time, watch or listen to help you prepare.
    2. Ignore the monitor and keep your eyes where you’re told (usually the interviewer)
    3. Don’t swivel or rock in your chair.
    4. Ask for a glass of water.
    5. Keep your eyes and head steady; don’t jiggle keys or play with jewelry.
    6. TV — Dress appropriately:
      • Dark business suit (sit on the jacket) or dress
      • Avoid stripes and shiny materials
      • Women: watch skirt length
      • Men: watch sock length
      • No glittery jewelry or dark glasses
      • Sit up straight and lean slightly toward interviewer.
    7. Be brief. Average TV sound bite is 9 seconds.
    8. Be mindful of cut-away shots. You may still be on camera after the interview.
    9. Always assume the microphone is on!!!
    10. If there are equipment problems, just relax and review your notes.
    11. Speak in complete sentences and in context. The question may not be heard.
    12. Make sure you give Clemson credit in your comments. Say, “at Clemson we . . .” or “research at Clemson shows . . . “

    Special notes for a hostile interview:

    1. Don’t argue with the reporter or with a third-party through the reporter.
    2. Don’t get personal, and don’t take it personally.
    3. Body language is important: Be authoritative, display appropriate concern but with a positive outlook. “We are in control.”
    4. Watch for the following techniques:
      • Questions use negative, inflammatory words. Don’t repeat them.
      • Rapid-fire questions. Select one and answer.
      • Interruptions. Be polite but assertive. Ask for the opportunity to answer.
      • A/B dilemma. If it’s neither, say so.
      • Stating an untruth as fact. Correct the error, then answer the question.
      • Misquoting a previous answer. Same as above.
      • Friendly chit-chat during commercial breaks after hostile questions. Don’t be distracted.