When Media Call

Tips on working with reporters.

The UB Media Relations Office works closely with local, regional and national media to:

  • respond to their inquiries
  • encourage them to tell our stories
  • quote our administrators, faculty, staff and students

On occasion, Media Relations will refer reporters to you. When they do, they will try to alert you ahead of time.

Sometimes, a reporter will contact you directly.

When a Reporter Calls You

The following guidelines will help you know what to do when a reporter calls you and how best to participate in an interview, should you choose to do so.

First things first

  • Ask the reporter for his/her name and media affiliation.
  • If the purpose of the call is not clear to you, ask the reporter to clarify what the story is about and what information is being sought from you.
  • You do not have to grant an immediate interview. If you need time to collect your thoughts, ask the reporter what his deadline is and tell him that you will call back before the deadline. Keep in mind, however, that once a deadline has passed, you will not be able to influence a story.
  • If you are not comfortable returning a reporter's call, contact Media Relations at (716) 645-6969 and ask for assistance in following up with the inquiry.
  • You are under no obligation to answer a reporter's questions. If you are uneasy with a reporter's query, particularly if he is asking about a situation that is potentially controversial, call Media Relations. They will advise you, and in some cases, they may recommend that a university spokesperson speak to the media instead of you.
  • If you think a situation will reflect poorly on the university if it is reported, call a member of Media Relations for advice. Do not volunteer this information to the news media.
  • If you would like to have background on a reporter before talking with him, contact Media Relations. Staff members in the office know most reporters and editors in the Buffalo area and may be able to provide you with helpful information.
  • Ask about whether you are being taped. Radio reporters, especially, will often tape an interview over the phone. This is a common practice used to obtain "sound bites." Any reporter, however, may tape you, but he should inform you of this beforehand. If you are unsure about whether you are being taped, ask.

Once an interview begins

  • Clearly state your UB affiliation and ask the interviewer to include this in his report. Let him know that our institution should be referred to as the "University at Buffalo" in the first reference and "UB" in subsequent references. Our school should be referred to as the "Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences."
  • Think before you speak. People often ramble, or say something they wish they hadn't, if they jump right in. Take a moment to consider what you really want to say when asked questions by a reporter.
  • Speak slowly, in short, concise sentences, and avoid using jargon. State your position in simple, easy-to-understand language. Use everyday examples and analogies, when appropriate. Be brief. Remember that you are speaking to the public through the reporter.
  • Anticipate questions and develop answers that clearly state the key ideas that you want to get across.
  • Try to make only one or two points. Say the same thing several times using different words. This is especially true if you are talking for broadcast. No matter how the tape is edited, you will have made your point.

Things to avoid

  • Never assume that anything you say is "off the record" just because you say it is. A conversation, comment or observation is never "off the record" unless a reporter agrees to it. The best practice is to not make comments off the record: if you don't want a statement quoted, don't make it.
  • Never say "no comment." It is better to say something like, "I am not permitted to discuss this because it is a personnel matter." Better yet, refer the reporter to Media Relations and they will handle the situation for you.
  • Don't stretch your expertise. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. If you can't answer a question, say so. If you try to explain something you don't know about, it will undermine your credibility and the integrity of the story.
  • Never talk down to a reporter. A reporter will tell you when he does not understand something you are saying; it is his job to guide the interview and ask you to adjust the technical level of your explanations.
  • Never argue with a reporter, no matter how antagonistic he may be. You can politely terminate a confrontational, unproductive interview. If you should have such an interview, notify Media Relations so that they can make note of it and the reporter involved.

Television interviews

  • Before scheduling a television interview, ask the reporter what material will be covered and, if needed, tell him what topics you will not comment on. If a reporter refuses to provide this information, you can always decline the interview. If a reporter says he will not ask questions on a topic and then does so on the air, let Media Relations know immediately.
  • Provide the reporter with a brief paragraph outlining the subject to be discussed and your viewpoints about it, before the interview begins, if possible. Media Relations can help you prepare such a paragraph.
  • When dressing for television, color is fine, but it should be subtle. Vertical lines, subdued colors and simple jewelry lend authority and seriousness to your remarks. Wear clothing that provides a relaxed fit while you are sitting.
  • Be aware of your posture. If you wear a suit coat or jacket, sit on the tail to prevent it from "riding up" on your neck.
  • Watch your body language. Television reporters routinely shake their head during an interview, as if nodding in agreement with the speaker. This can be hypnotic if you are being interviewed, and you may start nodding your head. You may be saying "no," but your head may be saying "yes."
  • Stay focused. Avoid becoming too relaxed or familiar with the interviewer or the setting. Missteps in TV interviews occur most commonly not in response to tough questions, but when a speaker loses his focus and talks too much or too carelessly.
  • Be on time. There is little or no opportunity to make up missed television interviews.

For information on how staff in Media Relations can assist you, contact them at 645-6969.