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February 2008

Getting the message out:
NCAR/UCAR media office readies staff for interviews


media training

David Hosansky (left) in media relations helps scientist Brian O’Neill, a new arrival to SERE/ISSE, prepare for an interview.

When Beth Holland (ESSL/ACD and TIIMES) was interviewed by a film crew last September about climate change, she was already prepared with her answers. She had gone through a training exercise with the NCAR/UCAR media office in which she put together a series of talking points and sound bites on the subject and fielded potential questions.
“Practice and preparation make all the difference in working with reporters,” Beth says. “The better my answers are, the clearer the science is. On an issue as complicated as climate change, it is especially important to be as clear as possible. I have found that communicating more clearly with reporters helps me communicate better to other scientists, too.”

The media office, housed in UCAR Communications, regularly works with researchers and other staff who expect to be interviewed. This training can include practice interviews, on-camera training, and general pointers about what to wear (no paisley, for instance) and how to manage an interview. The media office has also brought in outside consultants to work with UCAR and NCAR staff, and it is planning to offer a regularly scheduled class on talking to reporters.

“There’s a perception that the reporter does all the work and you just sit there and answer the questions,” says David Hosansky, head of media relations. “That’s actually not correct. It’s important to take charge of the interview by deciding beforehand on the main points that you want to make and then expressing them clearly during the interview.”

The focus on training is part of an ongoing effort by the media office to publicize research at NCAR and UCAR. Other initiatives include creating images and animations that can be used by researchers and journalists alike, posting video and audio clips of researchers on the Web, and holding national teleconferences on topics such as climate change.

How to prepare

David recommends that a staff member scheduled for an interview first come up with three to four main themes, or talking points, that he or she wants to communicate to a reporter. Even if the reporter doesn’t ask a question that specifically touches on a talking point, the interviewee can steer the conversation to it.

In Beth’s case, she wished to stress four basic points to an audience that didn’t know much about climate change.

  • Earth’s warming is unequivocal.

  • There is a strong scientific consensus that humans are at least partially responsible for climate change.

  • The climatic changes will have some adverse consequences.

  • Society can take certain steps to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions.

Before the interview, Beth generated examples and quotes for each talking point. At appropriate times during the interview, she produced her quotes, such as: “Climate change is no longer just a theory. We have different observations and models that are all giving us the same answer: the climate is actually changing.”

Other NCAR staff have also worked hard to generate quotes that will resonate with the public. When Kathy Miller (SERE/ISSE) got ready for a teleconference with reporters on the impacts of climate change on water supplies, she worked with David to produce sound bites that reporters would likely use in their stories. The strategy paid off when reporters picked up her quote: “Snowpack is nature’s reservoir, and we’re essentially pulling the plug on that reservoir.”

The media office makes recommendations on other interview tactics as well. These include tips on meeting reporters’ deadlines, when to go off the record (in a word, never), how to avoid scientific jargon, best practices for television and radio interviews, and more.

Staff who would like more information about media training should contact David Hosansky (ext. 8611) or Rachael Drummond (ext. 8604) in the media office.

On the Web

NCAR/UCAR News Center

In this issue...

A closer look at today’s forecast

Internship programs gear up for summer

The heart of winter

NCAR/UCAR media office readies staff for interviews

Short Takes

Just One Look

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