StATS: Media interview tips (March 23, 2005)

I have not had many requests for interviews, but I work a lot with people who talk to the media all the time. It's not an easy job, but it is a very important job. Scott Berry writes about his experiences with discussing models that predict outcomes in sports with radio talk show hosts and print media reporters.

The Mainstream Sports Media, Scott Berry, Statistics in Sports newsletter, Spring 2000: 2(1); 2-3. [PDF]

and mentions the tendency of reporters to oversimplify and leave out important qualifiers.

You have to be prepared to summarize things, neatly, and correctly. I found this to be very difficult--and also very frustrating. In any analysis there are certain assumptions that are important and they greatly affect the conclusions. Invariably the sports media is "headline driven." They want to say... "the statistician found that this player is the best." While I want to explain how it was found, how best is defined, and what are the measures of uncertainty, the media is for the most part happy with the headline. It is frustrating not being able to have more time to explain things more clearly, maybe I can get a few people to read the original study, or better yet become interested in this interesting field of statistics. You should strongly encourage anyone who writes about your work to let you read it--it will benefit both of you.

The University of Kansas Office of University Relations offers some do's and don'ts for media interviews. Here are just a few:

The website, about.com, has an article "Media Interviews - Are You Ready to Share Your Findings?" which offers similar advice. Here are two bullet points:

FEMA has some guidance in "Media Interview Tips" [Microsoft Word format]:

Some additional comments from other web pages:

Write down the five main points you want to cover. List anecdotes, facts, or jokes that help you make each point effectively.  Rick Frishman, Jill Lublin, Jay Conrad Levinson, www.rickfrishman.com/article_eight_tips.html

After the interview, you are rarely given the opportunity to read a story before it appears in print; even more rare is the opportunity for editing. Therefore, before the interview, determine if there are any controversial or easily misinterpreted aspects of your work. Roughly frame your answers in these areas beforehand. During the interview, emphasize to the reporter how important such points are. Assert the fact that your information may be inaccurate if stated another way. California Psychological Association, www.calpsychlink.org/news/interviewtips/printtips.htm

Be Prepared. Ask the reporter questions such as: Whatís your deadline? What kind of story is it? Whatís your angle? Who else has been or will be interviewed? Learn about the reporterís style and media outlet. The Endocrine Society, www.endo-society.org/news/InterviewTips.cfm

Try to get your most important pieces of information within your answer communicated first, before going into less significant details (reporters are looking for the gist of your answers and are often less interested in the minor details of an issue). American Colllege of Sports Medicine, www.acsm.org/reg_chapters/resources/interviews.htm

This page was written by Steve Simon while working at Children's Mercy Hospital. Although I do not hold the copyright for this material, I am reproducing it here as a service, as it is no longer available on the Children's Mercy Hospital website. Need more information? I have a page with general help resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Category: Human side of statistics.