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Talking to the Media

During a Media Crisis or Other Institutional Issue

Faculty and staff are welcome to talk to reporters about topics within their area of expertise. However, when faculty or staff members are asked to comment on an institutional question or an issue that relates to the entire institution, the reporter should always be referred to the Office of University Communications. The director of media relations, in cooperation with the senior vice president for University Communications will determine the appropriate spokesperson on behalf of the University. UComm will refer the reporter to the appropriate source for comment or issue a statement on behalf of the University.

About Your Area of Expertise

When a member of the news media contacts a faculty/staff member to comment on a topic within his/her area of expertise (e.g., a faculty member’s academic research or area of academic specialization), the faculty/staff member may answer questions immediately. However, if the faculty/staff member prefers to give some thought to the questions before answering, or if she/he has questions about the interview and how to respond, UComm recommends the faculty/staff member take the reporter’s telephone number and return the call as soon as possible. Faculty/staff faced with this situation should consult with a media relations team member who can share information about the reporter, the angle the story is likely to take, other stories the reporter may be researching or writing at the time and any other background information that may be helpful in advance of the interview. Faculty and staff can also contact the appropriate communications staff within their college/school/department to assist with preparation for the interview.

UComm should be informed about all interviews conducted by faculty and staff. Please send an email to the news officer assigned to your college/school/department in addition to the designated communications staff within your college/school/department.

Opposite-Editorial Pieces for faculty
Opposite-editorials (op-eds) are opinion essays written by experts that are typically published on the page opposite the editorial page in newspapers. Op-eds provide an opportunity for faculty to use their expertise on topics in the news to clarify or correct what has been reported in the press, to provide a new perspective on the issue or to call for further action.

Publication of op-eds written by faculty can call attention to the quality of Drexel’s faculty and indirectly highlight the quality of the University’s academic programs. UComm’s media relations team provides assistance in placing op-ed articles in local and national newspapers. By regularly working with op-ed editors, UComm remains up-to-date on current trends in newsrooms and current contact information for the major op-ed editors.

Op-eds appear in general-circulation newspapers and are designed for all audiences. The writing level of an op-ed page may be slightly above that of news pages (generally seventh to ninth grade level), but not much higher. Op-eds usually have an 800 word limit. UComm can assist faculty by providing editing advice and information about journalistic style. Op-eds need to follow the Associated Press Style Guide and accepted journalistic writing practices, which are different from the requirements of academic journals. The media relations team also can be helpful in suggesting topics, narrowing a topic, editing and other tasks.

Publicizing Faculty Research Findings

Why should faculty members consider publicizing their research?
News stories about Drexel research are read by legislators, citizens, donors and potential funding agencies. Research results can help inform decisions on important public issues. Many grant applications require public outreach and education, and there certainly is a need to improve public appreciation of science and how research benefits society. Popular media coverage makes it more likely research will be seen and cited by other scientists. Finally, popular media coverage of research often results in valuable contacts with potential collaborators.

Much of Drexel’s national and international publicity comes from coverage of research findings published in peer reviewed journals or presented at major academic conferences. Announcements about grants, appointments and awards rarely get more coverage other than brief mentions in local or hometown newspapers. UComm focuses on research findings rather than general announcements to maximize the likelihood of receiving the broadest spectrum of publicity.

Which studies should be submitted for consideration to become a news release?
In general, studies that are newsworthy tend to have some relevance to readers, their health and their lives; to society and modern problems; or simply are findings that inspire the common person.
However, even some relatively esoteric research has successfully received coverage in trade publications.

If you have a study and are unsure if it could be a news release, send it to the appropriate UComm news officer assigned to your college/school. Email your manuscripts as an attachment and include in your email a few sentences in layperson English explaining what you did, what you found and why it is significant.

When should a study be submitted to the Office of University Communications?
Send your study to the appropriate news officer soon after you submit it – and immediately upon acceptance.

The news officer needs time to read your study, interview you about it, draft a news release, have you review it for accuracy, and then issue it to the media to coincide with publication or with an “embargo,” if there is one.

Keep in mind: UComm does not write news releases on every research project conducted by faculty. To maximize your chances of having a news release written, you must be able and available to explain it in terms understandable and interesting to the news media and the general public.

What is an embargo and why are they important?
Major journals like Science, Nature and the Journal of the American Medical Association impose embargoes on papers they are about to publish. An embargo is a specific time and date before which a study may not be publicized. But journals with embargoes allow research institutions to send embargoed news releases to trusted reporters a few days to a week or more prior to the embargo expiring so that reporters have time to prepare stories.

For example, Science is published on Fridays. The journal’s embargo is 2pm (ET) Thursday, the day before publication. Science allows universities to issue news releases on studies under embargo as early as Monday morning prior to publication. To do that, a news release must be drafted, edited, and approved by Friday morning a full week before the study is published. This means UComm must know about a study at least two weeks prior to publication in order to have a news release ready on time.

Embargoes also are important because they provide a timely news “hook” to news stories on studies so the stories can say the study “was published today in the journal X.” Most major media will not publish stories on studies after the online publication dates of those studies, which is why it is crucial to have news releases ready to issue at the time specified by the journal in question.

Many journals do not have formal embargoes. In those cases, it is best to issue news releases a week to a few days prior to a study’s online publication date so it is seen as new and timely by the media.

What happens after a news release is issued?
On the day a news release is issued, and perhaps for a few days afterward – depending on the level of media interest – you must be available to answer media phone calls and emails as quickly as possible. That means in minutes to tens of minutes. The media work under very short deadlines, so a reporter may drop your story and move to something else if they cannot reach you immediately or hear back from you within minutes to an hour at most.

What about photographs?
Photos and other illustrations must have resolution adequate for newspaper and magazine publication: at least 300 dpi at a size that might be used in print, at least 4 inches by 6 inches or larger. Photos in jpeg format are preferred. Media generally will not use technical photos with graphs, symbols or legends; unadorned photos are preferred. Photos of researchers should be tightly framed on one or at most two researchers doing something in the lab or field. Most media will not use group photos, so do not submit them.