Advocacy in action

What to do when you're the news: Tips for responding to reporters

Ever get the feeling there's a target painted on your back?

When the news involves food animals, reporters often choose veterinarians as sources of information. Whether the topic is an emerging swine disease, pig welfare, or pork safety, no story is complete until the reporter talks to a swine veterinarian.

There's one problem, though. You don't like to give interviews. Maybe you worry about being misquoted or misunderstood when explaining a complex issue, but if you are prepared and follow some basic guidelines, you will be less likely to be misquoted or misunderstood.

The decision to give an interview will depend on your comfort level. It's worth the time and effort to get comfortable. Interviews are opportunities to provide facts, dispel myths, and offer perspective that might otherwise be omitted from a story. What better way to get your profession's message to an audience who might not otherwise hear it?

Following are some tips to help you prepare for your next interview.

Understand the rules of engagement

  • News happens when it's least convenient.
  • Reporters are on deadline. Return their calls promptly, not several hours or days later.
  • If you are caught off guard by a call from the press, let the reporter know that you are in the middle of something. Ask when you need to call back so the reporter won't miss the deadline. Before you hang up, ask what the subject of the interview is, what some of the questions are, and how long the interview will take.
  • Just because the reporter is friendly, don't assume he or she is your friend.
  • It's okay to decline a request for an interview.

Prepare for the interview

Write down three points that you want to convey. Keep your points short. The shorter your responses, the less likely they are to be edited, misunderstood, or misquoted. A general rule of thumb: 10- to 15-second sound bites for television and radio, and two or three sentences for print. Develop your points with those guidelines in mind. Rehearse your messages out loud. Anticipate questions that the reporter may ask and prepare responses.

Gather printed materials to support your position, and provide them to the reporter. It will help the reporter understand the issue and minimize errors.

Interview tips

  • Speak in a conversational tone, with confidence and conviction.
  • During live radio or television interviews, speak clearly into the microphone.
  • When interviewed over the telephone, do not use a speakerphone. The sound quality is less than ideal, making it difficult for the reporter to clearly hear your answers.
  • Look at the reporter, not at the camera. If you are interviewed via satellite connection, look at the camera. When in doubt about where to look, ask the reporter.
  • Avoid technical language or jargon. If you must use a technical term, explain it.
  • Stick to what you know. If you don't have the answer to a question, say so, but never say "No comment": it raises red flags.
  • Don't allow an incorrect statement by the reporter to go uncorrected.
  • Leave speculating and hypothesizing to the psychics. Reporters may use hypothetical questions to fish for information. Don't take the bait.
  • Answer questions in complete thoughts. In edited television or radio interviews, your comments may have to stand alone.
  • Avoid nervous habits such as pencil tapping or coin jingling.
  • Answer the question asked. Don't provide an answer to the question you wish the reporter had asked. It looks evasive and annoys the reporter. Answer the question, and bridge over to the points you want to make.
  • You don't like the way you started to answer a question? Cough or clear your throat, take a sip of water, then start your answer again. The diversion gives you a few seconds to reframe your answer. If you're doing a taped interview, a copy editor is not likely to use the segment where you coughed or drank water.

After the interview

A reporter is not obligated to show you the copy before it's published or aired. If you are misquoted, contact the reporter to request a correction, but only if the misquote or factual error is serious.

The above tips provide the basics. For additional advice, contact Dr Tom Burkgren, AASV Executive Director (Tel: 515-465-5255, E-mail: