stories they do. If they consistently
seem negative or controversial, you can
politely tell them that you may not be
the right person for the interview. If the
reporter and media outlet seem fair and
informative, quickly gather and review
reputable and current background data
on the topic in question. Are there any
controversies about that topic? If so, be
prepared to address them.
Before calling the reporter back, jot
down three to five simple talking points
to refer to during the call. These statements should be brief, positive in tone
and content, and free of jargon. Include
some simple statistics, if possible. Think
of a quick story/scenario that best
illustrates your point. Practice saying
your talking points aloud so they sound
more natural. If you are giving too much
detail, break out your pen and edit your
talking points down to bite-size pieces.
It’s completely normal to feel a little
uncomfortable about an interview. You
are giving up some control, which is
not easy for anyone. However, remind
yourself that the reporter needs you to
add depth and credibility to their story.
You are working together on the shared
goal of educating the public.
On the other hand, remember that
the reporter is not your friend. Despite
what movies or TV shows say, there is
no such thing as truly “off the record.”
The interview starts when you say “hel-
lo” and does not end until the article is
published or story is broadcast. Assume
that all microphones are on and record-
ing every word you say. Be careful and
appropriate to the situation—jokes or
sarcasm can be misconstrued.
Generally, reporters have a sense
of the type of information or quote
they need before they talk with you.
You must stick to what you know to be
true, even if the reporter is persistent.
“A couple of years ago, an enthusiastic
reporter asked me to provide commentary on a controversial head transplant
procedure,” said Chad Patton, MD, and
NASS Public Affairs Committee Chair. “I
think the reporter was disappointed that
I did not give it an immediate, ringing
endorsement, which would have made
for an easier and happier story to write.
No matter what question she asked, I
maintained that while it was an exciting
prospect, there were many ethical, legal,
social, and medical obstacles that would
delay or altogether prevent this type of
surgery in the United States. She ended
up using my pragmatic quote in the
story, after all.”
Sharing control of the interview
You have scheduled the interview and
you know what you want to say. Now
you have to create the opportunity to
say it by sharing control of the interview.
You have one main goal: stay on your
messages no matter what is thrown your
“While it may seem like a conversa-
tion, reporters may unintentionally or
deliberately lead you into a statement
that you might not actually mean,” said
Christopher Bono, MD, NASS Past Pres-
ident and a veteran of dozens of media
interviews. “Be wary if a reporter says
‘would you agree that…?’ They might be
attempting to put words in your mouth
and you will probably not like what they
put in print. Your response should be
your words, not theirs. Work with your
employer’s PR person or a NASS staff
member to anticipate the questions
in advance and stick with appropriate
No matter if it is a radio, TV, print
or online media outlet, there are three
tried-and-true techniques that you can
use to gain some control and steer the
interview back to your messages:
Bridging is the subtle art of connecting the reporter’s question to your
messages. To do this, imagine moving
across a bridge from where you don’t
want to be (possibly the reporter’s original question) to where you DO want
to be (your main messages). You must
respect the reporter by briefly answering
his question or else he may think you
are avoiding the topic. Some helpful
bridging phrases to get from “here to
there” are: “I think the real question is…”
Extra! Extra! Extra Tips!
• Always return to the most important point: how this topic affects patients.
• Increase your chances of being quoted—repeat the reporter’s question in your answer.
• Always be truthful—do not damage your reputation and profession.
• When you are done with your answer, STOP TALKING! It is not your job to fill the silence.
• To keep your energy up and your answers brief, stand during a phone interview.
• Assume the reporter will interview others, particularly people with an opposing view. Stick to YOUR messages and let
those experts speak for themselves.
• This is not personal. Keep your emotions in check and do not argue or interrupt.
• Do not criticize anyone, including patients, physicians, lawmakers and corporations.
• Give the reporter your credentials to ensure that they are reported accurately.
• After the interview, thank the reporter for the opportunity to educate the public.
Hopefully, these tips will help you prepare and feel more confident the next time a reporter requests your expertise for a
story. Who knows? You may even enjoy being interviewed! In the future, look for a SpineLine article on how to earn media
attention for spine health topics and your practice.