My daughter Jessica is a Freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she was in High School, one of her essays was published in a book called She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff, edited by Annalee Newitz, and Charlie Anders (2006, ISBN-10: 1580051901, ISBN-13: 978-1580051903). Jessica is also an enthusiastic blogger. All of which may be why she was called for a press interview last week for a major article on Girl Geeks. Jessica called John and me anxious for advice on how to talk with the press. Here is what we told her:
- Answer the question asked, ask for clarification if you don’t understand what is being asked. Ask to skip ahead to the next if a question is too private.
- Keep positive and avoid speaking ill of anyone; damnation by faint praise is OK if you really feel strongly.
- Think about what simple message you want to convey and stay on message, it can be “tech is good for girls and girls are good at tech” or “women have great ideas in computer science” or even just “read my blog!” Your message may have nothing to do with the question or subject of the interview.
- Express opinions in opinion words like “I think that…” or “What I see is…” rather than statements of fact and sweeping statements that are open to broad interpretation.
- Be very polite and appreciative of the interview, send a thank you email after, no matter how the interview went.
- Ask if the reporter will tell you when the article is published (it sometimes takes months).
- Don’t be upset if they misquote you or take your words out of context or even distort or make up words for you, it often happens.
- Provide solid facts and references if you have them.
- Enjoy the experience!
I passed this list by Carrie Motamedi, a friend here at Sun who has a great deal of experience with the press. Carrie’s additions:
- Make sure to call out any information you are giving as background but don’t want to be quoted on. (In general there is no such thing as “off the record” but most reporters will respect background if you call it out.)
- What is the topic? If it is something controversial or a trend – do your homework and see what else has been written and what point you can make that will add to the overall conversation happening.
- You can always go back to the reporter after the call if you feel you misspoke on something or want to add.
- Read some articles of the reporter before your interview so you know something about them, how they write (can also use this as an icebreaker).
- If there is a specific point you want to make, try and think of an analogy that would make sense to a broad audience (think 4th grade level).
- Don’t be disappointed if the piece doesn’t come out at all or you aren’t in the final cut – there are lots of edits which happen and interviews that get cut.
Jessica had a two hour interview and said she thought it went well. We are looking forward to reading what gets published…
For what happened next, read my blog entry MAGIC in Newsweek, 15 June 2008. For still another followup, check out What Have I Been Up To? Causing Trouble (mostly), Jessica’s blog entry from 21 March 2011.