University of Bath

Guide to working with the media

A guide from the University of Bath press office on how and why to engage with the news media, including what support is available from the press office

A picture of a radio microphone
The press office can help you prepare for interviews

Why engage with the media?

Media channels can help you get your research in front of the right audiences. Whether you want to influence policy, find industry partnerships or impress new funders or collaborators, the right radio, TV or print interview can help you connect.

Working with the media gives the chance to convey expert perspective on important issues, get evidence into public conversations and highlight the important work researchers are doing. Not only does this contribute to public debate, but can help maintain and build support for scientific research from the public, who ultimately pay for a lot of it.

Media work can raise your personal profile and boost your career, as well as that of your Department, the University and organisations you work with. There is some evidence that media exposure leads to higher citations, and more downloads of papers. Your work or expertise being featured in the media can also attract attention from potential collaborators, funders or learned societies leading to new opportunities.

And it can be a lot of fun!

Where to begin?

If you haven't worked with the media before it can seem a daunting prospect, and be hard to know where to start. Fortunately help is available.

The University's press office can advise about ways to engage media with your research, provide interview tips and practice, help write press releases, pitch stories to journalists and much more. The three Faculties and the School of Management have at least one media manager assigned to them.

In addition some funders including Research Councils and organisations like the Science Media Centre offer some free media training sessions for scientists.

You could also speak to colleagues at the University who have worked with the media for their perspectives. If you don’t know any, the press office can put you in touch.

You might also want to consider working with The Conversation, which works with academics to produce evidence-based, expert commentary on important and interesting subjects in accessible language.

Working with the press office

There are several things you can do to help the press office work with you in the most effective way.

Get in touch early! Give us as much time as possible to work with you on plans and preparations, and keep us posted on developments like publication dates. If you have a study coming out that you think will be newsworthy, let the press office know as soon as it's accepted.

Let us know your target audience; in an ideal world, who do you want to read or listen to your research story and what do you want them to think, feel and do as a result?

Let us know if collaborators at other institutions or your funders have plans to promote your work, and put us in touch.

Think about visuals - often stories become much more appealing to reporters if there are compelling photos, video, illustrations or infographics to accompany it.

Ask us to help with anything you're unsure about, perhaps a mock interview or guidance on key messages- we're happy to help you prepare.

What makes a news story?

There's no fixed formula for what will make a news story, so it's always worth speaking to the press office about what you have coming up. However there are some ingredients that reporters are always looking for when deciding what stories they will cover:

  • “Newness” - a new research finding that advances or changes our understanding of a subject of interest to the public: It’s hard to get media to cover papers which are already published because they’re considered out of date.

  • Relevance – can lots of people relate to what the story is about? For instance, stories about health, sport or relationships tend to be picked up because lots of people are interested in those subjects.

  • Human interest – is there an interesting personal story involved? Can someone involved talk about how the research affects their life as a case study? Is there an intriguing personality at the centre of the story?

  • Biggest, smallest, fastest, newest – something that sets it apart from everything else.

  • Timeliness – does your story coincide with a major event, a topical issue or campaign?

  • Conflict – is this a contentious issue, is it up for public debate? Can your story contribute to the evidence base, or help understand an issue?

  • Visuals – are there interesting or attractive images or video from the research that could be used for media?

  • Expert comment - is your area of expertise in the news, or likely to be in the near future? Let us know so we can let media know and plan how to get your messages out at the right time.

Are you the right person?

Often academics worry that they're not the right person to comment on a story, even though it's in their field.

It's right that people shouldn't speak up as experts on subjects they aren't expert in, but it's worth remembering that someone with a PhD in a particular field would be considered an expert by most people, even if their current area of research isn't exactly the same as the story being covered.

Most reporters aren’t looking to get into fine details of a piece of research, but want an overview of what the research means in a broader context. If in doubt ask the press office, they will often have a good idea of what sort of questions are likely to be asked. Don’t let diffidence stand in your way – someone else will talk to the media if you don’t.

Preparing for interviews generally

Remember what you want to get out of it: what is the critical piece of info you’d like a listener or reader to take away afterwards, and what do you want them to think, feel and do as a result?

Think about who the audience is for the media organisation you're speaking to. If it's not an academic audience, don't use academic jargon, instead imagine how you would explain the work to a non-academic friend. Think carefully about how much detail is really necessary - you might not have long to make your points, so make them early and keep it short. Being clear and concise is not dumbing down.

Write down answers to the questions you think might come up, and practise speaking them out loud so they roll off the tongue easily.

Don’t assume anything is ‘off the record’, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t be happy to see in print.

Get the details from your press office – when and where is the interview, who will you be talking to, how long will it take? Some journalists will give you an idea of the questions or ground they want to cover in advance so you can be better prepared.

Talk to the press office – let them know and ask for any help or advice you feel would be helpful. Media managers can help with preparations, advice and with the practicalities of arranging interviews.

During the interview take your time, remember your key messages and what you want to get across.

Be polite, positive and enthusiastic, remember you’re speaking to a journalist but also their audience too, so keep them in mind.

Don’t be offended if you’re asked what you think are very basic questions – it’s not a journalist’s job to know, it’s their job to find out, especially if they are a generalist. If you're unsure that the reporter is understanding what you're saying then check with them - everyone wants to get the details right.

If the journalist asks about areas where you aren't qualified to comment, say so – don’t be drawn on things you can’t talk about.

Broadcast interviews

In addition to the general tips above, for print and online interviews it's also a good idea to remember:

Once a microphone is on you need to assume it's recording and to not say anything you wouldn't want to be broadcast.

Take your time and be polite, positive and enthusiastic and engage with the interviewer. For broadcast interviews it's important to speak clearly and slightly slower than you usually would, so that audiences have time to absorb what is likely new information to them.

Have a drink of water beforehand so your voice isn’t croaky.

For TV interviews:

If interviewed in person by a reporter, look at the interviewer and speak to them, not the camera. However if you're doing a down-the-line interview then look at the camera.

Try not to wave your hands around too much as this can be distracting. Some people like to 'anchor' their hands on their lap.

Don’t wear anything that might distract from what you're saying. Avoid green, and stripes or bold patterns as these can cause problems on green screens.

Don't rush off immediately at the end of the interview, you may need to wait for the camera to cut, have a lapel microphone removed etc.

The press office has a dedicated studio where Skype or webcam interviews can take place. If you need to use it, contact the press office on ext 3941 or press@bath.ac.uk

For radio interviews:

Some producers will let you take notes into a studio, but don't rely on it. You should have practiced your key points and be able to recall these easily. If you are permitted to take notes into the studio, don't take many and don't rustle pages during the interview.

The press office has a dedicated studio with a high-quality audio line for radio interviews. If you need to use it, contact the press office on ext 3941 or press@bath.ac.uk

Print and online interviews

In addition to the more general tips above, for print and online interviews it's also a good idea to remember:

Interviews for print and online publications aren't 'live' so there's a bit more space to talk around a subject, but you should still keep in mind what you want to get from the interview and deliver your key points in clear, snappy soundbites.

Don’t assume anything is ‘off the record’, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t be happy to see in print.

Give them your contact details and tell them to get in touch if they need to check anything or think of something they forgot to ask.

Don’t expect to see the article before it’s published – in essence this would be asking the journalist to cede editorial control to you. Some will send you transcripts of your comments to check they are accurate – but this is rare.