Demystifying the journalist interview process for media-shy colleagues
Pauline Wallin, PhD
When you get quoted or featured in news media, it’s not just 15 seconds of fame for you. Media interviews are one of the best ways for psychologists to educate the public about the science of psychology and how it applies to everyday life.
Of course, I’m preaching to the choir. Many members of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology are already doing media interviews. However, thousands of our colleagues in other divisions and organizations who have valuable information to share are not getting the word out through news media channels.
That’s where we come in. As media experts, we have the skills and experience to teach our colleagues how to communicate effectively with journalists and reporters in print, radio, TV and online news media. Our media training workshops could have potentially large ripple effects. The more psychologists are quoted and featured in the media, the greater will be the visibility and respect of our profession in the eyes of the public.
Getting People Interested and Motivated to Attend Your Media Training Workshop
Not surprisingly, media work does not appeal to every psychologist. Many introverts among us shy away from the spotlight. Others may assume that they’re not “experts” to be quoted, or they are concerned about being misquoted.
Therefore, when inviting psychologists to attend media training, emphasize their role in helping the public understand basic psychology. Every doctoral level psychologist and all grad students know more than the average person about psychological principles and how to cope with common problems. One need not have done original research nor written major papers to communicate psychological science in everyday language.
What to Cover in Your Media Training Workshop
APA has an excellent comprehensive overview of what to expect from a media interview, tips on how to prepare, ways to avoid being misquoted, and more: http://www.apa.org/pubs/authors/media/
In addition, I recommend segments on:
1. How to Get an Interview With News Media
- Register with the APA Media Referral Service and your state and regional referral services.
- Contact your local news outlets when you can add a psychological perspective on current news, e.g., after a natural disaster, during a slew of major company layoffs, any event that might cause large numbers of children to worry.
- Interact with reporters on Twitter. When they need a psychologist for a story, they’re likely to think of you.
- Leave comments on online news pages where appropriate to your expertise. The writers do read the comments, and if they like yours, they may contact you for a future story.
2. How to Find High-Quality Information Quickly for Your Media Interview
When you need to refresh your knowledge on a topic, but have only an hour or two to get your thoughts together, a regular Google search will yield too many irrelevant results. Here are a few search tips to hone in on reliable and current information:
- Limit your results to information from government or university websites: Add site:gov or site:edu (no spaces) to your search terms.
- Find slide presentations (which often have bullet-point facts and statistics) on your topic of interest: Add filetype:ppt (no spaces) to your search. You can also add one of the filters above to help make sure the presentation is from a reliable source. Your search will look like this:
your keywords filetype:ppt site:edu or your keywords filetype:ppt site:gov
Also find slide presentations at Slideshare.net. Many academics post their slides there. For general reference use libraryspot.com — links to statistics, medical and law libraries, and more.
- Search the latest news on your topic: The screenshot below shows the toolbar that appears at the top of your Google search results page. Click the News tab to see only news items, then click the Search Tools button to choose a time frame — from past hour to the past month or custom time frame. Time frame can also be applied to other types of searches.
If you want to know more about advanced Internet search techniques, contact me and ask for my 2-page cheat sheet Power Searching Tips and Tricks.
3. Communication Techniques
- How to establish and maintain rapport with the interviewer
- How to prepare effective sound bites
- How to use your voice expressively
- How to manage your gestures, posture and other body language for TV
4. Media Ethics
Every workshop participant should review and understand Standard 5 of APA’s Ethical Code: Advertising and other public statements. Other Standards that apply include 2.04: Bases for Scientific and Professional Judgments; 4.01: Maintaining Confidentiality; and Principle C: Integrity.
Consider Including a News Reporter in Your Media Training Workshop
When organizing a media training workshop for psychologists, I invite a local TV news reporter. The reporter typically talks about what news media need from us, how we can best get our message across, and how to contact them with story ideas. The reporter also conducts mock interviews with audience members and gives practical feedback afterwards.
When these topics are addressed by a journalist (rather than by a psychologist) it gives the audience an authentic glimpse into working with the media. In their feedback forms at the end of my media workshops, participants have consistently noted the value of the information and insights they received from the reporter.
Your Next Step…
As members of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology, our outreach should extend to colleagues in all APA divisions, state and provincial psychological associations, and other psychology-related organizations.
Contact the program chair of one or more such entities and offer a workshop on media training. They will benefit from your expertise and you will help build the reputation of Division 46 as a valuable resource.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Pauline Wallin received Division 46’s 2014 Distinguished Applied Contributions to Media Psychology and Technology.