A journalist calls you and asks if you want to appear in the news(paper) as an expert. You have written an important (or mediagenic) article, and want to share it with the world. These are the two most common situations where you appear in media as a researcher. Below, we give you a number of tips & tricks that can be applied to both situations.

The basics

For all communication with the media (and others), it is important to consider your core message. What do you want to say to whom? The question may seem simple and superfluous, but formulating an explicit answer to this question in advance will help you stay on the right track during the interview.

Whatever the topic, the journalist will always ask you these questions: “what, who, why, when and how?”. Give a clear and concise answer and don’t underestimate the public or the importance of the medium. Whether it is HLN or Terzake.

Who is your target group? For most media, you may assume that it is “the broader public”. This is, of course, an ambiguous term. The broader public consists of both your colleagues who know everything about your topic, and the standard laborer, who is listening to your message as a layperson. A good trick to adjust the level of your message so that the “broader public” not only understands it, but also isn’t bothered by it, is the use of a personalization. Commonly used personalizations are the 14-year-old girl, and your mother or your grandmother. You can practice by speaking about your research as if you were talking to one of these people.

The interview

  • Think of a number of questions that the interviewer might ask, and about the answers to those questions, in advance.
  • Think about the questions you would rather not be asked. Make sure to prepare answers to these questions as well. Try not to evade questions, as it will look like you have something to hide.
  • When the interviewer is leading the conversation somewhere you would rather not have it go, answer the questions briefly, and move on to “but what is really important here is…”, or “what we have discovered through this research is…”, to bring the conversation back to your core message.
  • Use analogies to clarify complex messages.
  • The conclusion: “So what you are saying is X, Y and Z”. Answer back/repeat this again in your own words.
  • Scientific language is uncertain, full of nuances and unknowns. Within a non-scientific context, this can be construed as very ambiguous, sometimes it may even look as if you have something to hide.
  • The “pregnant pause”: the long silence of the interviewer after you have finished speaking. This creates suspense, which makes you feel like you have to keep talking, even though you may be done already.
  • Exercise your interview with colleagues/the communication department/…
Sicco Wittermans

Persverantwoordelijke, VUB

Dorien Brouwer

Adviseur Communicatie, EhB

Television & Radio

  • Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about your interview: is it for the news, for another program? Will there be other guests? Are they going to participate in the discussion on your topic? How long will the interview be? Is it live?
  • Never forget whom you are addressing: you are not talking to the public, but to one person watching the television or listening to the radio in the car (think of the personalization of the broader public).
  • Try to avoid using the name of the interviewer. This makes soundbites difficult, and sometimes appears too familiar.
  • Concerning soundbites: try to repeat the question in your answer, preferably in your own words.
  • Be enthusiastic and avoid parasite words such as “hmm”, “uhm”, “ah”,…
  • Never look at the camera, always at the interviewer.
  • Sit still or stand still. Do not start moving around, fidgeting,…
  • Do not wear distracting clothing: fine stripes/argyle patterns/busy prints/… look strange on the screen. Rolled-up sleeves can also have a strange effect. Be careful with rustling armbands,…
  • After the interview, the camera usually keeps rolling for a few seconds. Do not move or sink in your chair until the operator/director says that it is OK.

The newspaper

  • A journalist calls you for an interview over the phone and wants to prepare you. Ask if you can call them back in 10 minutes. Actually do this (call back within the hour at least). Keep the tight deadlines of the journalist in mind.
  • Do not expect the journalist to show you a copy of the article. Do propose to check the article for scientific correctness. If this is possible: only correct the scientific elements. Your “interviewee” role ends at the door of the editorial department.
  • Assume that everything you say is a potential quote. Even if the journalist has closed their notebook.