Talking to the ‘media’

Many clinicians find themselves having to contend with the ‘media’.  That means, newspapers, TV, radio, etc.  It always induces anxiety, but there are straightforward things that can vastly improve your confidence and impact.

Firstly, you must prepare.  But, if you do get ‘caught on the hop’, stay polite and never say, ‘no comment’.  (It always sounds guilty and evasive).  Rather, say, “I’d love to give you an interview.  Please give me your contact details and I’ll get back to you today”.  Make sure you get back! When you get back, be really clear in your messages, which should be no more than 1 or 2 key points.  Imagine what you would ideally like to read/hear/see in this publication/programme, and give it to the journalist!

As a clinician, it is very easy to slip into jargon, so keep it to a minimum.  Be aware, however, that a little bit of jargon is very impressive to the general public, but be judicious. Journalists like stories and anecdotes, so prepare some.  Be personal (but protect confidentiality!), use data sparingly; try typical case histories, testimonials and scenarios. 

If you’re asked really difficult questions, acknowledge the question in some way, “Well, some people might say that, but….”, and move on to something you do know about.  It’s perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know, that’s not my area”. 

I find it’s useful to treat journalists like patients from whom I’m trying to get consent, i.e. be very clear about everything!  Or, think of them as being relatives of patients to whom you are trying to explain what’s happened to their loved one.  Ask them what they know already and bring them up to speed on what’s going on.  Fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

See Tips for talking to journalists

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