Academics are regularly called upon to explain complex situations such as their research in front of the media. One of the major challenges they face is getting their own point of view across without being misunderstood.
Unfortunately for academics, journalists can be prone to simplifying intricate pieces of research or arguments in order to get a good headline. Every so often there’s a blazing headline in the news telling us that X has been proved when quite the opposite is true. Many an academic has been left scratching their head, ruing the fact that they talked to a journalist in the first place.
It can be easy to blame the journalist, of course. They’ve misquoted your words and totally missed the point. The truth is that the blame usually lies on both sides. A lot could be down to your interview technique and that you are inexperienced in dealing with the media.
Here are some tips for improving your media engagement and, hopefully, reducing the risk of being misquoted or misrepresented:
- Simplify the Conversation
Academics are used to talking about complex issues and concepts with each other, using their own jargon, something that most of us find difficult to follow. The job of the journalist is to take the information an academic provides and turn it into a story that will make it into the news. Journalists also look for soundbites which they can fit into the narrative to give their story more body.
Academics need to look at their interview technique from the point of view of simplifying their research or advice. It’s important to focus on one or two clear messages that can be put across in a short space of time and which are both truthful and easy to understand.
- Take Your Time
Academics are enthusiastic about their subject and it’s tempting to try and fit in as much information as possible to get a point across. This can be counterproductive because the journalist is trying to note things down and keep track of what you are saying. It’s much better to slow down and be understood rather than speaking quickly and having your message misinterpreted.
- Add a Summary
Another thing you can do is finish with a quick summary for the journalist so that they understand what your main points are. Ask if there are any questions and offer to review any quotes that they may want to make.
How you are being interviewed can make an important difference too. If you are talking on the phone it can be difficult to get your ideas across when there is a bad line, for example.
Dealing with the media, including journalists, is something academics often welcome. It gets their opinion or their research out there and can act as some free advertising for their institution. Understanding the nuances of how the media works and taking responsibility for what is said during an interview should ensure that you control the situation much better
Media training is useful in building confidence while giving you the tools and knowledge to perform well in front of journalists. Being aware of the pitfalls of media interviews and learning how to get your point of view across should mean that your words are not misinterpreted however complex the issue.