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Principles and Practices
Working with the Media

Historical Document

This document is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

Because working with the media is one of your primary opportunities for communicating with the public, your positive relationships with the media are crucial. Consider what to do before, during, and after an interview, and in a crisis.

The Media Perspective

In general, the media is interested in the following:

  • Human interest stories
  • Bad news more than good news
  • People's perspectives
  • Yes or no/safe or unsafe answers
  • Front-page news stories

Preparing a Message

The media will be seeking information on: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

To maximize your impact, prepare and practice delivering your key message.

  • For broadcast media: a 10- to 12-word "soundbite"
  • For print media: 1- to 3-line quote

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Before, During, and After an Interview
(Donovan and Covello 1989)



  • Ask who will be conducting the interview.
  • Ask which subjects they want to cover.
  • Caution them when you are not the correct person to interview because there are topics you cannot discuss (because lack of knowledge, etc.)
  • Inquire about the format and duration.
  • Ask who else will be interviewed.
  • Prepare and practice.


  • Tell the news organization which reporter you prefer.
  • Ask for specific questions in advance.
  • Insist they do not ask about certain subjects.
  • Demand your remarks not be edited.
  • Insist an adversary not be interviewed closeup.
  • Assume it will be easy.



  • Be honest and accurate.
  • Stick to your key message(s).
  • State your conclusions first, then provide supporting data.
  • Be forthcoming to the extent you decide beforehand.
  • Offer to get information you don't have.
  • Explain the subject and content.
  • Stress the facts.
  • Give a reason if you can't discuss a subject.
  • Correct mistakes by stating you would like an opportunity to clarify.


  • Lie or try to cloud the truth.
  • Improvise or dwell on negative allegations.
  • Raise issues you don't want to see in the story.
  • Fail to think it through ahead of time.
  • Guess.
  • Use jargon or assume the facts speak for themselves.
  • Speculate, discuss hypothetical situations.
  • Say, "No comment."
  • Demand an answer not be used.



  • Remember you are still on the record.
  • Be helpful. Volunteer to get information. Make yourself available. Respect deadlines.
  • Watch for and read the resulting report.
  • Call the reporter to politely point out inaccuracies, if any.


  • Assume the interview is over or the equipment is off.
  • Refuse to talk further.
  • Ask, "How did I do?"
  • Ask to review the story before publication or broadcast.
  • Complain to the reporter's boss first.

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In a Crisis

A threat to health, safety, or the environment - actual, perceived, or potential - can pose both danger and opportunity in risk communication. Consider some DOS and Don'ts


  • Plan now.
  • Respond immediately - the first 24 hours are critical.
  • Respond straightforwardly.


  • Hope a crisis never comes.
  • Let the issue be defined by someone else.
  • Think that keeping a lid on the story will prevent the public from seeking
  • information.

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