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Guidelines for working with the media

EMU's marketing and communications department helps the outside world understand the mission and vision of our institution. Our media relations staff also work to raise the profiles of faculty and staff. Working with journalists helps to present a positive picture of our work and achievements. We do this in a number of ways:

Press releases
Information about newsworthy events at the university is usually issued by us in the form of a press release. Sometimes the events will be mainly of interest to local media, such as the Harrisonburg Daily News Record or TV-3, and to the Mennonite media. Items that are especially newsworthy are usually sent to specialist correspondents of national newspapers and their news editors. The press release is a quick, efficient method of getting an item into the news.
Pitches
A press release isn’t always the best way of getting coverage. Sometimes a publication will give a story greater prominence if it’s offered as an"exclusive". If we think we have a story that would be ideal for a particular publication or news program, we may make an individual approach to the editor.
Experts bureau
We produce a list of faculty prepared to talk to the media about their areas of expertise. Ideally, we’d like all academics to offer some area in which they could give comments or advice. Remember that however modest you may be about your expertise, your knowledge will be more than sufficient for most media needs.
Speaking for the university
Another major role for EMU’s media relations staff is to speak on behalf of the university, to explain EMU policy to the media and transmit information about EMU affairs. Faculty members are not permitted to do this. You are free to express your personal views in public or private, provided that it is done explicitly in your name and not in that of the university. If you receive any questions from the media regarding university policies, you should direct the journalist to the Public Information Officer or Director of Marketing & Communications.

The stories that make the news

What happens first?

You tell us about your latest work or other news and we’ll discuss the angles and audiences to whom it might appeal.

Stories interest editors if they:

  • relate closely to an event which has already made news
  • provide a new and interesting angle or some human interest

All news is more interesting if it is about people rather than things. A story about academic research will have a far better chance of being picked up by the press if it includes personal details that will help it come alive for the audience, or if is about something that will affect the lives of ordinary people.

We’ll then write the press release, incorporating the vital information. You can check over the press release for accuracy, but remember, we are writing the press release in the format and manner necessary for widest possible usage by the media.

The press release will include contact details of the media relations manager. If a member of the media requests an interview, the media relations manager will contact you about your availability for interviews. Depending on the nature of the story, the release will go to local media, national media, specialist publications or specialist correspondents.

What happens next?

News desks generally decide very soon after receiving the press release whether or not they want to cover your story. If it’s of mass appeal (say, you’ve found a cure for a terminal disease, or you’ve come up with a new theory on the secret of eternal happiness), you’re likely to be inundated with requests for interviews, and they’ll want them now. Timing is crucial to newspapers and broadcasters. You may find your schedule disrupted for a couple of days while you fit in interviews. It’s best to leave your immediate schedule flexible once a press release has gone out.

How to prepare for your interview

Hopefully, the press release will have described your work succinctly and it will just be a matter of the journalist asking you to reiterate what you have already said. Rehearse a few questions and answers of the"what, where, who, why, how?"variety. If your work is complex, think of some easy analogies to explain it better. Do you have something visual that might be good for a photograph or TV cameras?

Whether the interview is for the press, radio or television, the following simple guidelines should help protect you against distortion and enable you to get across what you want to say:

Five golden rules

  • Begin with the main points and ideas.
  • State your point clearly and repeat it frequently if necessary.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Use simple, intelligible examples to support your statements.
  • Don’t try to cover everything.

 

What to expect as an “EMU Expert”

Academics who are experts in fairly general fields (health, religion or the environment) find their knowledge and opinions are frequently sought by the media. Others are called upon only if their specialization suddenly becomes topical.

If you are contacted directly by a journalist, you probably won’t be given much time to gather your thoughts (a news reporter will be up against deadlines). Don’t worry too much about trying to give a detailed analysis. Reporters are usually looking for no more than a sentence or two and may just want you to talk in a general way.

If you are able to buy some time, ask the reporter to call you back. In any event, remember to take the reporter’s name, phone number and the name of their media organization.

Your big fears – and how to prevent them

Misrepresentation

Journalists rarely set out to misrepresent or misquote people. Errors usually occur because of the speed at which journalists have to work. You can help to avoid such problems by patiently explaining your work to the reporters and checking to see if they have understood you. Be helpful, build up a good rapport and you’ll minimize disappointment.

Off the record

There is no such thing as “off the record.” If you don’t want the reporter to know about something, don’t tell them. Things said “off the record” have a nasty habit of appearing in print.

The Devil’s advocate

If a reporter chooses to give you a hard time or attempts to trash your work, don’t rise to the bait. Stay calm and repeat your message. If it is about university policy, refer the reporter to the Information Officer.

Speaking to print journalists

This may be a face-to-face interview, or a phone call. The reporter may record the interview, but is just as likely to take notes.

Before the interview starts, check:

  • Whether the reporter is a specialist or a general reporter. Specialists may already have some knowledge or your work. General reporters will need more information.
  • Whether they are working to a tight deadline. You may have to respond quickly.

And afterwards:

  • Check the reporter has all the information he or she needs.
  • Suggest to the reporter that he or she contacts you if they need anything else.
  • It is unlikely that a journalist will show you the full article before publication, but you might be shown the words that will be attributed to you.
  • Find out when the article is likely to appear.

 

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