Five tips for scientists handling media requests

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1. Ask the right questions.

When making decisions about which interviews to accept, always ask:

  • What is your story about and can you share some questions in advance to help clarify your primary interest?
  • What outlet is your story for and what can you tell me about the outlet’s audience?
  • What is your deadline and do you have any deadline flexibility?
  • Will the interview be by phone, email, or video? If for radio or tv, will it air live or be recorded?

2. Triage your interview opportunities.

With a solid understanding of what’s being asked of you, consider which audience you’d like to reach:

  • National news outlets (e.g., ABC, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) reach large, broad audiences and aim to contextualize scientific advances in societal terms.
  • Specialty news outlets (e.g., WIRED, Popular Science, Scientific American) target readers who are likely already interested in science or technology; they aim to describe advances in more technical detail.
  • Local new outlets (e.g., Topeka Capital-Journal, local NPR affiliates) are generally highly trusted, reflect the interests and needs of their communities, and prioritize practical “news you can use”.

If you are overwhelmed by requests due to breaking news or are unsure how to decide among competing opportunities, your university’s press office can often help weigh options and assist with interview logistics.

3. Respond promptly.

Whether you decide to accept the interview or not, it is helpful to respond to the reporter as quickly as you can. Even if you decline, a brief and friendly response helps the journalist and can leave the door open to future interview opportunities.

4. Refer a colleague.

If you’ve decided you don’t have the time, the desire, or the relevant expertise to take an interview, consider referring a colleague with the right expertise. In particular, consider referring a junior faculty member, a scientist from an underrepresented group, or a colleague who’d like more media opportunities. Keep in mind that collegial etiquette recommends that you contact the person you have in mind before passing their contact information to a reporter.

5. Send a written note.

If you receive similar questions from multiple reporters, craft a written comment you can send to those who you don’t have time to talk with. Include your full name and title as you would want it to appear in a news story. Consider sending these quotes to SciLine as well (; we sometimes distribute them—with attribution to you—to reporters who come to SciLine seeking responses to commonly asked questions.