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Ready for your Close-Up? How to Work with Media...

"Journalists are always hungry for psychology-based articles. Here’s advice on how to work with them to get the story you want"


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1. Answer the right question.

2. Be brief in your response.

"Answer the right question. Learn how to pivot away from bad questions from ill-informed reporters. "I try to reframe the question so it is more sensible," says cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, PhD. "Then I answer that one." There are many phrases you can use in these instances, such as, "That’s a very interesting question but the important thing to remember is … or "I see your point but what I’d like to emphasize is …

Know the risks. What Swan wasn’t prepared for was the virality of today’s media. She was interviewed directly by only two journalists but found that around 100 media outlets picked up the story and reproduced it without interviewing her. Some added a little bit of their own interpretation. "This is where the findings became exaggerated or differed from what the original article said," she says.

Speak in plain language. Reporters’ biggest gripe about interviewing scientists? They talk in jargon. "The surest way to scare people away from science—indeed, to alienate them from the enterprise—is to be unintelligible," says Christopher Joyce, a science reporter at National Public Radio. "The less clear you are about just what your ‘story’ is, the more the reporter will be tempted to gin one up."

Show some passion. You’ll be most effective if you show genuine enthusiasm for your research or area of expertise—even if you’ve described your work thousands of times before. "My only peeve is the sensibility pounded into scientists by their peers that to be taken seriously, they cannot enjoy themselves while talking about their work," says NPR’s Joyce. "Laugh, make jokes, talk about why you do what you do, and show your passion. Being objective doesn’t mean being robotic."

Be a great source. If you’re accessible, easy to understand and knowledgeable, journalists will come back to you again and again. Farley estimates he does anywhere from 50 to 100 media engagements each year, in a mix of national and local outlets. These topics have been as varied as why people take risks to why an NBC Nightly News correspondent wasn’t likely to win a Powerball jackpot.

Know when to decline. Don’t give interviews outside your area of expertise or succumb to requests to diagnose people whom you have not examined. "I once spent about 20 minutes on the phone with an awardwinning TV documentary show talking about ethical standards and limitations when I was asked to bring a client or treat one on the show," Alvord recalls."

And be brief. Nice folks finish fast. 

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