In the past year or so, we all have heard
the claim that the mainstream media
is peddling “fake news.” While there
certainly are questionable media outlets
and reporters out there—particularly in
the political and celebrity arenas—the
vast majority of reporters serve the public interest by providing helpful information and balanced stories.
Spine specialists frequently lament
the unfair amount of “bad press” our
profession receives. Without a doubt,
sensational stories of rare surgical
complications and controversial spine
specialists are ratings gold for the news
media. However, refusing to participate in media interviews will not make
negative stories about your profession
disappear or make spine health stories
more accurate. The reporter simply will
continue calling source after source, until someone—perhaps someone unqualified to talk about spine health—will
provide his opinion or advice, which
may be harmful to patients. That’s the
type of “fake news” spine specialists
must work with the media to avoid.
With its wide reach, the media can
be a powerful educational tool. Consider your participation in an interview as
a form of public service. For example,
if asked to comment on a professional
athlete’s spine injury, you can describe
the condition, interpret what that injury
and its treatment could mean for that
individual and their team, and teach the
public how to avoid that same injury.
You will dispel fears, clarify treatment
options, and provide hope to thousands—possibly millions—of people at
By providing your expertise to a
reporter, you can elevate the reputation
of your profession, your employer, and
your practice. You will have the opportunity to demonstrate spine specialists’
depth of knowledge and their sincere
commitment to quality patient care.
Finally, by including you in the story,
the reporter is tacitly giving you a valu-
Be a Media Resource and Help Your Patients Get the
By the NASS Public Affairs Committee
able third-party endorsement. Potential
patients, your colleagues and others will
view you as THE expert to call on when
back pain comes calling.
Ok, ok, I’ll do the interview. Now
First, follow your employer’s rules on
interacting with the press. Educating the
public about a health issue is important,
but your patients’ well-being and their
right to privacy must always come first.
It’s best to work with your employer’s legal and communications experts before
you agree to a media interview. If you
do not have a PR person to handle this,
you can work directly with the reporter, keeping in mind patients’ rights to
Next, be responsive and professional
in your interactions with reporters. Like
you, they are experts at their profession
and are motivated to do a good job.
Politely ask them what their deadline
is and whether they have any materials
they would like you to review ahead of
time. Find out if they would like to interview you on the phone, via email, in
person at your office, or live in a studio.
Deadlines are tight, but typically, you do
not need to do the interview the moment they contact you. Make a mutually
convenient appointment for the interview, usually an hour or so later or the
very next day at the latest.
“Since reporters often are on deadlines, timeliness is important,” said John
Fauber, an award-winning medical
reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It doesn’t do much good to talk to
someone after a story runs. We usually
only need a quick 10-15 minutes with
you on the phone.”
Do Your Homework
Use the extra time you just bought yourself to do your homework. Do a quick
online search for the reporter and media
outlet so that you can see the type of
Get Ready for Your Close-Up
With high-definition televisions everywhere, no detail is too small for the
camera to notice.
• Look and feel your best by getting
a good night’s sleep
• Filming in your office? For
privacy’s sake, close documents
and emails on all computer
• Wear comfortable, professional
clothes that project an air of
• Wear neutral colors, such as light
blue, green or gray.
• Avoid bold patterns, such as
wide stripes or checked patterns,
since they appear to “vibrate” on
• White or light tan shirts and
jackets (including lab coats) can
“wash out” your features.
• Keep eye-catching jewelry to a
• If you must wear glasses, make
sure they are smudge-free.
• Do not fold arms or make
dramatic hand gestures.
• Sit in a comfortable, upright
posture, with thighs together and
feet crossed at the ankles.
• To look more confident, lean
forward about 15 degrees in your
• Check hair, teeth, makeup, tie,
cleavage, buttons and zippers in a
mirror before the interview.
• If you are talking with an
interviewer, look at him, not the
camera. If you are doing a remote
TV interview, (listening through
an earpiece), talk directly to the
camera as if it is a person.
• “Wear” an appropriate
expression. Resist the urge to
smile and joke if the topic is