An interview

If you speak to a journalist in person, by phone, by mail, through social media or otherwise, realise that everything you say can be published by the journalist. Even if you immediately say you are not the most qualified person for this topic, but then proceed to explain how you personally see it, it may be in the paper tomorrow. ‘Off the record’ is something for daredevils, or for the situation where you have a good relationship with the journalist and you know that you can trust him/her.

It also helps you if you think that journalists represent their target audience, not your academic colleagues. Your statements must of course be correct, and be explained well, but academic accuracy is generally a poor match with a readable article for the general public or a short item on radio/TV. Some simplification of the matter is required.

  • If you are surprised by a journalist, do not hesitate to ask them to call you back later.
  • In a written interview, you can ask at the beginning of the discussion if you can review the text before publication *. You can even stipulate this as a condition for your participation in an interview, if that best serves your interest.
  • Try to get as good of a picture as possible of the end result by asking the journalist about who the audience is, who else will be discussed further in the article or item, what the intent is, and for radio interviews if it is live or recorded.
  • Before the interview, consider what your main message is and try to stay on topic. It helps if you think of a few formulations in advance that will help you explain this message.
  • Agree clearly on how your name and position will be stated. Typically, ‘Jan Jansen, Maastricht University’ is fine. Departments/divisions/research schools become rather confusing, partly because they make the title too long. However, your position (professor, researcher, lecturer) could possibly add something.
  • Do not use jargon, but talk as if explaining it to a good friend who is not in the field. Also, a good example or a clear metaphor can do wonders.
  • Remember that radio and TV programmes mainly use short quotes, so keep your answers as short as possible without compromising the content.
  • Radio programmes sometimes request that you travel to the studio in Hilversum, because telephone interviews are preferably very short on the radio (because of the sound quality). The regional station L1 in Maastricht also has a studio, which the Hilversum broadcaster can make an appointment with, so you can offer studio quality from Maastricht.
  • Even if the recorder is off, the journalist is still at work. If you trust him/her with something, do not assume that it will not be used because the interview is ‘over’. That is not so.
  • Put it in perspective. Is the publication ultimately not quite what you expected or are you downright displeased? The media are sometimes fleeting, and generally so is the audience. You have to really miss the academic mark in the media for a negative publication to haunt you for long.
  • Practice makes perfect: You can participate in a media training offered by the Media Presentations Training Centre or the Staff Career Centre at UM. 

*For inspection

’For inspection’ is not the same as ‘for rewriting’ when it comes to publications. If the text is sent to you this way before publication, it may be challenging for you to only correct any factual inaccuracies. If you do not like the tone or a subheading, you can indicate this, but it will rarely be taken into consideration. The headline is often made by the chief editor, and even the journalist has little influence on this. But if there are any wrong figures, or findings are incorrectly connected together to reach a specific conclusion or are you misquoted, then you have a leg to stand on. Please note that a quote is rarely recorded exactly as it was spoken (if only because it is sometimes grammatically not the most beautiful construction); the point is that you recognise the scope and the tone.

If you cannot come to an agreement with the journalist, please contact the press officers. They deal with these things more often and can probably help you.