Joyce A. Nettleton, D.Sc., R.D.

A. Understanding the News Media

1. Function and Operation

In the narrow sense, the news media's job is to report what has happened or is about to happen. Report aims to be "objective." Reporting usually goes beyond the facts of what has happened or might occur. Journalists often try to "balance" their reporting by including different points of view. Different views are often presented as being equivalent, with perspective or support given by quotes from spokespersons from all sides (e.g. industry, government, science, consumers).

Besides describing events, news reports also:

Indirectly, the news media may also:

Key Points:

2. Print Media

Includes newspapers, magazines, daily journals, news sections of scientific journals, newsletters, etc. Print media have the advantage of more time/space to cover a story/event, present complexities, offer supplementary information such as additional sources of information, upcoming related events. Reporters are nearly always working on deadline, sometimes a very short one. May include fact-checking and call-backs prior to publication. Print media seldom send article for you to proof or approve in advance of publication. May include illustration. Use of several expert authorities in an article gives you the opportunity to recommend others.

With all reporters, regardless of the news medium, calling back ASAP is essential if you want to be included in a story. Time matters, but theirs is more important if you want to be heard. Newspapers work on short deadlines; magazines may have weeks or months to prepare.

Contact is usually by phone but may be in person at press conferences, hearings, meetings, trade shows or other events.

Reporters' background knowledge ranges from nothing to extensive. You can detect this almost at once and choose how much time you want to spend educating the reporter. This may be your best opportunity to persuade them of the merit of your views and hence determine the slant of the article. Experienced reporters may be very good at concealing their own perspective. Reporters familiar with the issue are more likely to be specific about what they want to hear from you; those just beginning their research are likely to cast a wide net.

Key Points:

Guidelines for Working with Print Media Reporters

3. Broadcast Media

Broadcast media include radio and television. These media allow you to be heard and seen. They will greatly affect the tone of your message. Thus your voice, appearance, gestures and mannerisms can be used to your advantage to enhance your credibility and the importance of your messages. Overlooking the impact of your voice, appearance and manner could undermine your message.

A. Radio

Radio excels in providing time to deliver a complex message and discuss an issue. Although radio news programs may offer only a few seconds, many radio shows have a 15, 30 or 60 min. format during which you may be the only or one of several guests.

Radio programs may be taped or live. Taped shows allow for the correction of misstatements and awkward pauses. They may require you to answer the same question more than once. Often you can chat with the program host or interviewer ahead of time to establish rapport and assess the host's perspective and knowledge. Occasionally a program will be taped live for broadcast later. Such shows are edited before airing.

Radio programs are often taped at the studio. Sometimes a host will record a telephone interview for subsequent broadcast; sometimes spokespeople will appear live "on air" from a distant site.

The type of program affects the environment of your message. Is it a news program, agriculture report, consumer show, business report? Type of program largely determines the audience.

Many spokespeople find radio a comfortable medium because they have more time to make their points. They are also less worried about their appearance. Appearance can be a factor in communications, however, when you are one of several participants in the studio. Use it to your advantage whenever possible ("dress for success").

B. Television

In contrast to radio, television offers minimal time. You are lucky if you have 10-20 seconds to state your point, once editing has been accomplished. Words are at a premium.

TV segments may be done live, taped or taped-live. In a live news interview you may have 1-2 min. and the viewer sees the interview exactly as conducted. In a taped interview many more minutes of footage will be taped and edited later. Editing influences whether the intent and context of your message is preserved. Usually less than 2 min. of a taped interview will be used and much of that may be presented in segments. In a taped-live interview, you are interviewed live and the tape edited for rebroadcast usually later that day. There is no opportunity for correction.

The type of program will affect how you prepare and how faithful your comments are to the original context. Juxtaposition of your comments, however, can distort the context of your remarks. Phrases can also be presented out of context.

Guidelines for Broadcast Interviews

Interviews are not necessarily about truth and facts; they are about getting your message across. Become skilled at thinking and preparing strategically.

At the studio:

Call-in Programs - Radio

2000 J. A. Nettleton