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Media Guide Working with the Communications Office and Journalists

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Working with the media

Queen Mary, University of London is always keen to publicise good news stories that showcase the excellence of its teaching and research. Media coverage is a quick, effective and powerful way of communicating messages to millions of people worldwide. The BBC, for example, attracts a weekly global audience of 238 million people with its international news provision, which includes BBC World Service, while 30 million people world-wide read The Sun online each week. Stories covered in the mass media have the potential to shape public opinion, encourage debate and influence policy – perhaps provoking interest from potential collaborators and funders. The College is obligated to tell the public, a major stakeholder, about the innovative research its scholars are working on. Indeed, many research grant contracts contain a clause that requires academics to promote their findings.


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Publicity can also facilitate student and staff recruitment. Higher education is a competitive environment and talented students and academics want to be where cutting-edge research and teaching is going on, and Did you know... When a recent MORI poll asked where excellent facilities people how they heard about developments in are available.

biology: 80 per cent said TV news; 74 per cent

Whether it is to promote said national newspapers and 51 per cent said your research findings, give local papers. an expert opinion, or to represent the institution as a spokesperson, you may be required to give a media interview at some point in your career at Queen Mary. While not definitive, this guide is designed to give you a basic outline of what to expect when dealing with journalists and includes tips on how to handle media interviews.


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Do you have a story to tell?

Universities offer journalists a good source of news and expert commentators to add weight to a story. Are you about to publish a research paper with findings that may be newsworthy? Have you just received a major research grant? Are you the voice of authority on a subject that is hitting the headlines? If so, please notify the Communications Office, so that a member of the team can help you to: • Identify the key messages • Write a press release • Get in touch with journalists • Coordinate interviews and press conferences • Provide copies of coverage


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Forensic research at Queen Mary

How we can help The Communications Office, part of Corporate Affairs, is responsible for media relations; corporate and stakeholder communications; and internal communications (with staff and students) on behalf of the College’s three academic sectors: Science and Engineering; Humanities, Social Sciences and Law; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Each sector has its own dedicated communications lead, who puts journalists in touch with relevant spokespeople and liaises with academics and funders to write and pitch press releases on: • Research grant awards • Publication of research papers and findings • New projects and collaborations • Distinguished Visitors • Awards and prizes • Appointments, promotions and Fellowships • Inaugural lectures and big name speakers • Guest speaking at other institutions and conferences • Forthcoming events Contact details for the individual communications lead for your sector are available at: To contact the Communications Office: E T 020 7882 3004


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What makes a great news story?

All good news stories contain one or more of the following elements: • Human interest (will have an impact on the average person, good or bad, now or in future) • Entertains or amuses (a cute animal is always a winner) • Extremes (the tallest; the fattest; the smallest; the fastest) • The ‘wow’ factor (unusual facts and figures) • First or new • Controversy or scandal • VIPs and celebrities • Money – substantial amounts of funding • Events or anniversaries • Exciting images or video footage


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Who are our key media outlets?


Local papers East London Advertiser; East End Life; Tower Hamlets Recorder and London Evening Standard, etc. Bar the Evening Standard, these are weekly papers so have longer deadlines to work with. Stories they want reflect, celebrate, impact on or have meaning for local communities. Good examples would be clinical trials involving local people or new facilities with public access. National print media Daily Telegraph; The Times; The Sun; Daily Mirror; the Guardian, etc. Dailies work to very tight deadlines. Journalists have to battle for page space, so your story has to impress. You must be available for comment at very short notice (i.e. within 15-30 mins). Broadcast BBC; ITN; SKY; CNN, etc. News is now a 24/7 industry. Broadcast journalists can be the most demanding due to time constraints; they often have to turn a story round in half an hour or less. For your story to work on television, you need to provide a visually interesting location for camera crews to film or to interview you in. Online news;;;, etc. This is a huge and growing platform; it is also currently free to view, and the articles are usually published instantly, so it can reach global audiences very quickly. You can display images, video and other multimedia content.

Alastair Campbell speaks at the College

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Give an expert opinion

Journalists are often keen for academics to give their views on issues in the news, for example, the global financial crisis, a pandemic, or Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. What are your areas of expertise, and how could they fit into the current news agenda? Offer to be an expert on your given topic if a journalist needs a quote about a specific area. Be brave – if you have strong feelings about a news story or new development, journalists are always interested in another viewpoint.


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Getting your message across Timing is everything when it comes to securing media coverage, so alert the Communications Office to a potential news story as soon as possible. Ideally, a minimum of a week is needed to prepare a press release for print and broadcast news outlets, although they can be turned around faster with your help.

What is a press release? A press release is a document that highlights important news about an individual or organisation. A communications officer will write and issue a press release to journalists to encourage them to cover the subject.

To set up magazine features, we require two or three months notice as such publications have long lead times and their editorial content is decided well in advance.


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Key elements of a press release

A press release should read like a newspaper story, with the most crucial information at the top. If the story is aimed at the national media it will be written to appeal to a lay audience, more so than if it was intended for a specialist publication. Do not confuse simplifying language with dumbing down; we can still communicate complexity without technical terms. It is all about making your work accessible. A good press release should pre-empt and answer all the questions a journalist might put to you.


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In the first few sentences, we need to cover the five W’s: Who you are, who do you work for? What have you been working on and what effect will this have on people’s lives? Where did you do it, where does it happen and where is it published? When did you do it, when does it take place? Why is what you have done important, why were you chosen?


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How should a press release be structured?

1) Embargo An embargo is a point in time after which a story may appear in the media. This is more important for stories on scientific papers, where the embargo will be set by the publishing journal. The vast majority of journalists stick to embargoes, you can speak to them ahead of time so they can pre-prepare material. There are exceptions to this rule - the Sunday newspapers have broken embargoes in the past. Do not speak to journalists on such publications unless you receive approval from your journal or the communications team. 2) Headline This sums up the story in a line; it should be short, punchy and engaging. 3) First paragraph We aim to get all the main facts into the opening paragraph. Subsequent paragraphs are used to elaborate. Journalists are increasingly pressed for time and spend only a few seconds reading a press release – if the story does not hit the mark immediately it is likely to get binned. 4) The context Journalists love digestible facts and figures to back up a story, so the more anecdotes and statistics you can give us to put things in context the better. Ever-increasing demand for online news means it is also crucial to accompany press releases with striking photographs, videos and sound clips, to increase the chances of the story being covered.


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5) Quotes Quotes need to be concise, colourful and tell part of the story. Journalists and the lay public like plain English, so keep it jargon-free. A communications officer can draft a quote on your behalf, based on comments that you have made to them when on the phone or via email. 6) Contact details Usually the contact details added are those of a communications officer, not the academic. This helps to protect you from a deluge of calls. If there is a huge media response to the release, the communications officer can prioritise interview requests on your behalf. 7) Notes to editors At the bottom of a press release, there will further details on the story, plus links to online information, if available. Here, a ‘boilerplate’ – a paragraph about the organisations involved such as funders, and other universities – will be added.


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Is media coverage guaranteed?

News is not an exact science; it is impossible to predict the level of interest from journalists. A story that might be newsworthy one day might not get a mention the next. It all depends on national and international events. The best thing to do is contact the Communications Office for advice on whether it is likely to generate interest. And remember, even if a press release is not issued, the Communications Office has plenty of scope to publicise stories in other ways. If a press release is issued, journalists may wish to speak to you for further comments. With this in mind, please make yourself contactable and available for media interviews. Remember, we are talking 15 minute deadlines, not two days. Don’t be discouraged if you are not contacted straight away. If a journalist is short on time, he or she may write the story just using information gleaned from the press release; others will keep the story for use at a later date. Even if your story does not make it into print, many newspapers have a web presence and, without space constraints, can often publish longer versions of stories online.


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Tips for speaking to the media See every media interview not as a challenge but an opportunity to get your message across. No interview will be the same, and print, radio and TV interviews differ significantly. However, there are a few pointers to consider when doing any interview. Radio interviews will either be live or pre-recorded. They may be conducted over the phone or in a studio. If it is the latter, the station will usually arrange transport for you. You may also receive calls from TV news rooms. Again interviews will be either prerecorded or live. Filming can be time-consuming, but TV news can reach large audiences and so it is often worthwhile doing. Whether it’s a radio or TV interview, key messages are the crucial elements to your story that you want your audience to know. The general rule of thumb is three key points; it is usually all the time you will have to convey in an interview situation. Getting your killer facts in quickly and concisely means there is less chance of them being edited onto the cutting room floor. If you are feeling overwhelmed by media requests, contact the Communications Office for advice on which journalists to prioritise. A communications officer can also politely decline requests on your behalf. Contact the Communications Office on: E T 020 7882 3004


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General interview guidelines

• If a journalist calls you and you would like to gather your thoughts, ask if you can call them back in 10 minutes. • Journalists often work to tight deadlines. If they ask you to return their call, please do so as soon as possible, ideally within 30 minutes. • Find out who they are, who they work for, what they want, what their deadline is and who else they are speaking to. • Please ask the journalist or presenter to give ‘Queen Mary, University of London’ a name check (mention).


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Preparing for your interview • Are you the right person to do the interview? Is someone else better qualified to speak? • Anticipate what questions you might get asked – remember the five W’s • Write down three key points that you wish to get across. They need to be punchy sound bites. Can you tell them in the time it would take to go up three floors in a lift? • Write down your key points on a postcard to prompt you – not reams of paper, as you can’t read off a script. • Think about what is most important. Only one of your quotes might get used in a newspaper or 20 seconds on air – what do you want to get across? • Think about who you are talking to? Who is the audience? What would they want you to say, or explain, or be reassured about? • Before doing the interview, establish how much the interviewer knows about the subject. Do you need to brief them first? • Ask the Communications Office to run through a mock interview if you think it will be helpful.


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The ABC rule

If you feel that a journalist is pushing you into saying something you are uncomfortable with, employ the ABC rule. It will enable you to Acknowledge the question, Bridge the gap between what is being asked and what you want to say, then Communicate your message. There are some really useful bridging phrases that you can use to make it appear you are acknowledging the question but then continue with your own agenda and messages.

For example: “You say that, but that’s not quite right, what we feel is……” “I don’t know about that, but what I do know is…..” “That is an interesting point but what I want to say is………” “We don’t think that’s the case, we think……”


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Speaking to print journalists • Give quotable sound bites. How would you explain this research to a friend in the pub who has no knowledge of the subject? • Try to use comparisons and metaphors to illustrate complex points. • Be aware of throwaway comments: everything you say could be quoted in print. • Be careful of questions that start: “So what you are saying is A, B, C.” If you answer “yes”, the journalist could quote you as directly saying “A, B, C”. Answer in your own words. • As a general rule, there is no such thing as “off the record”. • Never say “no comment” as it sounds like you have something to hide – say “I’m not the best person to ask, you should try X”.


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Broadcast interviews

Preparation • What is the programme and what is the audience? • What is the interview about and what areas will be covered? • Is it live or pre-recorded? • How long will the interview last? • Is anyone else being interviewed, and if so who? Will you be discussing the issue with them? • Where will the interview take place? Can they arrange transport? • Ask your interviewer what their first question is going to be. • In a live interview get your key points out as early as possible, just in case it has to be cut short. • Make sure your phone is turned off (not just on silent) for the duration of the interview. • Be careful of statistics when you are discussing risk (see ‘Communicating Risk in a Sound Bite’ at for tips).


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When being interviewed • Be positive, calm and relaxed. • Sound passionate and enthusiastic about your subject. • Pace yourself. • Accept a glass of water, if it is offered – it helps a nervous, dry mouth. • Avoid “ums” and “ahs”. • When you have finished your point stop speaking. The journalist may pause to encourage you to give further information, but this could lead to you saying more than you want or need to. • Think about your audience and tailor your language accordingly. • Look at the interviewer – pay no attention to the camera.

• Don’t get defensive – if you get angry you look guilty and could find yourself part of the story. • Make sure you look presentable. • Don’t wear anything distracting, e.g stripes, checks, comedy tie or dangly earrings. • Avoid distracting mannerisms like waving your hands around. Place them on your thighs or in your lap. • Be patient as there are lots of different shots a TV crew will need to film to fill a few minutes of air time. Retakes may be necessary if the noise of a passing car or other background disturbances distort sound quality.


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Key points

• Respond to journalists enquiries or requests punctually. • Always make sure Queen Mary gets a mention. • If you are working on something you think could be newsworthy, contact the Communications Office to discuss publicity options.


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Here to help If you would like to improve your experience of dealing with the media or want to gain practical interview skills, think about signing up to one of the training courses run in-house by the Communications Office. For further details, contact the Communications Office: E T 020 7882 3004


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This guide has been produced by the Publications and Web Office for the Communications Office - Pub4739 For further information contact: Communications Office Queen Mary, University of London Mile End Road London E1 4NS Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3004 Tel: +44 (0) 7970 096 175 (out of hours) email:

Queen Mary, University of London Media Guide  

Queen Mary, University of London Media Guide