Getting the message out:
NCAR/UCAR media office readies staff
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 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
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
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.
In this issue...
closer look at today’s forecast
programs gear up for summer
heart of winter
media office readies staff for interviews
Just One Look
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