Guide 4: dealing with media & press

Having your research featured in the mass media can raise awareness among a large audience.
The focus here is on what your research means or could mean for society.

Why should you engage with media & the press?

  • Wider exposure could lead to more funding opportunities.
  • Your research is exposed to larger and wider audiences that may not otherwise seek out information from more academic channels.
  • Other scholars from different disciplines may see possibilities to apply their expertise and take your research in many different directions.
  • You may get more feedback about how your research can be applied in various social contexts.

Stop the presses! How to alert the media

You may wish to alert the media when you have a breakthrough in your research that is newsworthy or if you have expertise in an area that relates to a current topic in the news. The best way to approach the media is through the Maastricht University Press Office. The press officers can help you determine if your research or message is newsworthy. The press officers will also decide on the appropriate way to communicate your research or message to the press. This could be through a general press release or through contacting specific journalists or news desks that they think would be interested in covering your story.

What makes your research newsworthy?

Before you approach the press office, consider how the press will determine if your research is newsworthy enough for publication. This will help you determine how to pitch your research to the press officers. Ask yourself if it falls under any of the following categories:

  • A major breakthrough in your field: Does your research contribute to a significant development in your field?
  • Meaningful impact on society: Does your research affect a large number of people in their everyday lives?
  • Related to current events: Does your research relate to current events in a meaningful way?
  • Relevant to the readers of a publication: Does your research specifically affect the readers of a certain publication? Note which publication(s) when you talk to the press officer.
  • Recommendation for social change: Does your research provide evidence to support a different approach to current or social issues that could appeal to policymakers and voters?
  • Trending on social media: Does your research relate to a topic that is currently trending on social media?

There are, of course, exceptions to what can be considered newsworthy and the press officers can help you determine this.


Providing information for a press release

The press officer will most likely write the press release, but you need to provide the officer with the most relevant information for journalists. Consider what the most newsworthy aspects of your research are and explain them clearly, with supporting facts, to the press officer. Be brief, direct, accurate and informative. And remember to include ‘who, what, when, where, why, and how’.

Even if the press officer crafts a perfect press release, it is not a guarantee that your story will be picked up by the media. It is ultimately up to the journalists or editors whether they want to publish your story and many factors go into their decisions.

What to do when the press comes to you

You also might be contacted by a member of the press directly if they need an expert comment for a story they are working on. This request could come directly from the journalist or via the university’s press office.

If a journalist contacts you directly and you do not feel prepared to comment immediately, especially if they are asking about a controversial issue, you are free to get their number to call them back after you have taken some time to gather your thoughts or consult with a press officer.

But call them back as soon as possible and agree with them on a time to call back or they could move on to another expert. They are almost always working against very tight deadlines.

How to minimise the risk of being misunderstood or misquoted

Be thoughtful about how you word things so that a journalist cannot easily misunderstand you or take something that you say out of context. You can minimise this risk by first discussing your story with the journalist informally so that you each have the chance to make sure there is a mutual understanding of the facts and the tone of the news story. Assume that anything you say in this ‘pre-interview’ is on the record and can be published by the reporter.

If the journalist is not known to you or is not part of a reputable news organisation, it is wise to check out their previous work or their news organisation’s work before agreeing to an interview and decide if you will have a fair chance of presenting your message as you intend it. The press officers can also help you determine this, but it is good for you to have a feel for your conversation partner. You can request to have a press officer present with you in your meeting if the interviewer has a reputation for being controversial. If you are not comfortable with the situation, then it might be best to decline doing an interview or providing a quote.

Most journalists will make every effort to make sure that they understand what you intend to say and will represent it fairly. Usually, you will not be given the chance to comment on the final article or news story, but let the journalist know that you are happy to be contacted for additional information or clarification. If you realise after the interview that you have misrepresented a fact, call the journalist immediately to offer a correction. It is difficult to get a retraction once a story is published.

How to prepare for a live interview

When you are preparing for a live interview, for instance, on television, radio, podcast or online streaming, discuss the content with the journalist, producer or presenter beforehand to:

  • establish what is expected of you during the interview
  • get more information about the content or goal of the interview
  • determine how much time will be allotted for the interview
  • review with them interesting facts about your research that pertain to the interview

Practice what you are going to say, but not so much that your answers sound rehearsed. Make a mental note of what you do and do not want to say on air. Identify a few talking points without creating a full script. You can also practise answering potential interview questions with a colleague, friend or press officer.

9 Tips for media​​ interviews

1. Get support from the press office: The UM press office should be one of your first point of contact when it comes to dealing with the press. You are the expert on your research, but they are experts in communicating with the media.

2. Identify your talking points beforehand: Prior to the interview, identify 3 to 4 points you want to convey and support these points with interesting examples, anecdotes or analogies.

3. Conduct mock interviews: Practise answering questions with your colleagues, family and friends. If you are preparing for a television or livestream interview, have someone record it so you can evaluate your body language.

4. Make sure you understand the question: Listen carefully to the question and ask for clarification if necessary.

5. Use everyday language: Avoid scientific terminology if possible. If you must use a term that is likely not familiar to the audience, offer a simple explanation or analogy.

6. Keep your answers brief and direct: Get directly to the point and reference a talking point whenever possible because you may not get another opportunity.

7. Cite facts and statistics: Use verifiable facts and figures to add authority and interest to your talking points.

8. Deflect questions you want to avoid: You can respond to a narrow question with a broad answer that leads into one of your talking points.

9. Correct mistakes: If you misspeak, speak up as soon as you realise it (even if that is while you are speaking about something else) and correct your response immediately because you may not get a chance to later. If the interviewer presents incorrect information, politely set the record straight by providing the correct information.

 Sources for this guide

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questions regarding support at the UM Faculty of Law