Faculty Resources

How to Make the Most of Media Opportunities

Building strong relationships with external news media is a priority of The Office of Communications and Marketing. It is here where the staff brings story ideas to the media's attention. We keep in touch with other campus communicators, faculty and students to identify ideas that the media may find newsworthy. Ideas that are fresh, timely, important or unusual draw the most attention.

This website may be helpful for faculty or administrators as they handle requests by reporters for their expertise.

Click on a Topic:
1. Inviting the Media
2. Expert Advice
3. Editorial Coverage vs. Advertising
4. What to do When a Reporter Calls
5. Deadlines
6. "Off the Record" and other terms
7. Tips for a Successful Interview
8. Tips for Television
9. Calls at Home
10. We're Here to Help

1. Inviting the Media
The Office of Communications and Marketing frequently pitches story ideas to reporters through phone calls and e-mailed news releases and tip sheets. These efforts represent invitations to the media to cover events and activities, but do not guarantee that reporters will attend. When Auburn University issues such an invitation, the University says we will allow the media to observe the activity, interview its participants, take photographs or videotape, and that someone will be available to answer questions. The University customarily waives any fee to an event for reporters, and if an activity is opened to the public, all news media must be allowed access.

2. Expert Advice
Auburn faculty are often called upon by reporters to provide insight, analysis, background or informed reaction to issues that will receive media coverage. Economic trends, social issues, court decisions, government initiatives, political activities, international affairs, even pet care and road construction commonly prompt the need for expert advice from faculty who have the credentials and authoritative points of view reporters seek to add weight to their stories.
However, the word "expert" is used loosely by the media and should not intimidate sources. If you are well-versed in the general area of the inquiry and feel comfortable explaining the topic's significant points to a reporter, please do so. If you find yourself out of your league, let the reporter know. You will build productive relationships. In addition to news situations, reporters seek expertise for feature stories and may ask a faculty member to explain little-known facts, ideas or histories about topics only someone with an intimate knowledge of the field would know.

The Office of Communications and Marketing maintains an online experts guide that suggests potential sources on many topics to reporters across the state. OCM also subscribes to on-line public information services including ProfNet. ProfNet is a service in which reporters nationally, and sometimes internationally, post story ideas and ask university news editors to suggest faculty sources. Reporters sort through the responses and interview those they consider the best sources. As with other news media avenues, the competition on this service is tremendous, particularly when the request is from a national media outlet. You can improve Auburn's chances of being selected by responding quickly when The Office of Communications and Marketing seeks sources and by providing a sample of the ideas or viewpoints you have on the topic. This lets the reporter know what to expect.

3. Editorial Coverage vs. Advertising
Auburn's Office of Communications and Marketing staff persuades editors, reporters and producers to see Auburn's sources, programs and activities as newsworthy. If what's happening at Auburn is viewed by an editor as among the most important or interesting events planned in Alabama that day, he or she will assign a story. Auburn does not pay for this coverage and has no control over the story's content or whether it is aired or published. It is considered free media.

If you want to ensure the attraction of participants to an event and guarantee that the public knows about your program, you should consider advertising, or paid media. Advertising ensures that your information will be published or aired in the space you purchase on the date you specify in the format you provide and does not have to be deemed newsworthy by an editor.

4. What to do When a Reporter Calls
If you are contacted directly by a reporter and you feel comfortable answering the questions, do the interview, but ask for the reporter's name, media affiliation and phone number in case you want to clarify something later. After the interview, please alert The Office of Communications and Marketing so we can perform any necessary follow-ups, such as providing the reporter a photograph or a vita or tracking down a copy of the story when it runs.

If you think some preparation before the interview would be helpful, or your schedule prevents an immediate interview, tell the reporter you need time and arrange to get back together. It is appropriate and helpful to ask the reporter what questions will be asked so you can begin formulating answers. You may want to seek the assistance of The Office of Communications and Marketing at that point. The Office of Communications and Marketing news editors can help you frame responses as well as understand what to expect from specific reporters and news media outlets. The Office of Communications and Marketing can talk you through potential questions and help tailor your thoughts into quotable statements or sound bites.

5. Deadlines
Journalists work under constant deadline pressure. If a story is set to run in the next day's edition or on the 6 o'clock news, the story will usually run regardless of whether you're available. That is why it is critical to understand the time constraints a reporter is working under when you are contacted. Of course, that does not mean a reporter's emergency is your emergency. If you feel you cannot accommodate the request before the reporter's deadline, please refer the call to The Office of Communications and Marketing, so a news editor can try to find someone else at Auburn to be interviewed on the topic within the deadline.

Television reporters usually face the most immediate deadlines because they need on-the-scene visuals that require some equipment setup. In Auburn's case, the distance between the stations and the campus is a formidable factor. To assist you, The Office of Communications and Marketing supports an in-house electronic news gathering unit that can produce broadcast-quality news material. Newspaper reporters working on a story for the next day often have a few more hours in which to research their stories and can work by phone. Radio reporters typically want to tape a telephone interview immediately, although talk show guests are invited to the studio.

Journalists from weekly or monthly publications and feature reporters have the most leeway in their deadlines and often arrange interviews far in advance of their publication or airing date.

The general rule to remember is that a successful interview will include negotiations from both sides.

6. "Off the Record" and Other Terms
The term "off the record" means something different to everyone and comments made under this agreement are not guaranteed to remain confidential. It is best not to say anything that would embarrass you if it appeared in print or on the air. However, if you have information that could lead a reporter to an important issue that has been overlooked and you do not want it directly attributed to you, ask in advance that it be used "for background only" or "not for attribution." This means the reporter may use the information in the story, but will not indicate that you were the source. Make sure the reporter agrees to the conditions, and that both of you understand specifically what has been agreed upon before you provide the information. The best rule of thumb, however, is not to say anything you wouldn't want to see in print or broadcast.

It is a good practice to refrain from using the phrase, "No comment." It implies that you are hiding something or are uncooperative and does not convey the real reason you do not want to or cannot respond. Instead, express why you would rather not discuss the matter, such as explaining that an answer would violate a student's right to privacy or that revealing the results of your latest study at this time might jeopardize publication in a professional journal.

7. Tips for a Successful Interview
1. When a reporter calls, cite your affiliation with Auburn University and ask to be identified as an Auburn faculty member or administrator in the story.

2. Avoid jargon. Explain what you mean briefly and in simple language, keeping in mind that reporters look for colorful, lively quotes.

3. Don't let the reporter put words in your mouth. Reporters sometimes repeat what they heard to double-check with the source, and that recollection may not be accurate. Listen carefully and clarify.

4. When dealing with overly complex information, take the time to make sure the reporter understands what you are talking about.

5. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so.

6. Beware of hypothetical or "what if?" questions. Stick to what you know to be true.

7. Prepare answers for the best and worst questions you might be asked.

8. Avoid being defensive when asked a difficult question.

9. Remember that you will be identified with Auburn University and your comments will reflect on the university. If you express personal opinions to a reporter, identify them as such.

8. Tips for Television
1. Appearance is very important. Producers recommend wearing solid, dark, comfortable clothing. Avoid busy patterns and noisy, distracting jewelry.

2. If you usually wear glasses, do so for the interview. The best advice is to be yourself.

3. Ask that Auburn University appear under your name in lettering superimposed on the television screen.

4. Anything you say to a reporter may appear in the story, even if you said it when the camera was off.

5. Understand the program's format. Will it be a question-and- answer session between you and a reporter? Will there be other guests? If so, who? Will you be on a panel?

6. Off-camera before the interview, make sure the reporter understands the background of the story. On-camera, stick to the topic and don't complicate the discussion with unnecessary history and context.

7. Outline key points you want to make ahead of time and repeat them several times during the interview.

8. Responses that are 10 to 15 seconds long have the best chance of being included in the final story.

9. Look at the reporter, not the camera.

10. Remind yourself about good posture. Try to be relaxed and don't be afraid to use your hands when speaking, but not in excess.

11. Studio lights are hot. You may want to blot any perspiration from your face before the camera rolls.

12. Videotaped interviews may be edited so you can pause to collect your thoughts or correct yourself if you make a mistake.

13. If you are being filmed at Auburn, choose a distinguished setting for the interview, possibly in front of a bookcase or an outdoor setting like Samford Hall.

9. Calls at Home
Home phone numbers mean accessibility and, to a reporter working on a breaking story after 5 p.m. or on a weekend, they can be golden. The media operates 24 hours a day, and breaking news happens at odd hours. A slow evening or Sunday afternoon shift might be the only time a reporter gets to research a feature story. If a reporter can reach you after working hours, Auburn has a better chance of appearing in the story. Home phone numbers should not be abused. If you are reached at home at an inconvenient time, propose a more appropriate time to return the reporter's call or arrange for the reporter to call back.

10. We're Here to Help
The Office of Communications and Marketing keeps in touch with as many potential news sources-faculty, students and administrators-as possible, but we are a small department. We appreciate tips from the university community when newsworthy events are happening. If you think something you are doing professionally or personally is newsworthy, call The Office of Communications and Marketing to discuss it. This could include attending an important conference, developing a new teaching method, presenting a paper on a newsworthy issue, discovering a research breakthrough, hosting a meeting where action on a timely topic may be taken or sponsoring an event at the university that merits news coverage.

To determine news value, consider whether you've seen similar stories on the topic in the past. Is your idea likely to be among the most important or interesting things happening that day? Is there a reporter who covers this topic regularly? Does your idea have broad appeal, or is it more suited to a smaller, more focused audience? The Office of Communications and Marketing can help you make these determinations. Give us a call at 844-9999.

Last Updated: Aug. 15, 2014

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