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Why Take Time to Talk With the Media?
In the last two decades, Davidson has moved from a position as the premier liberal arts college in the Southeast to one ranked among the foremost selective colleges in the country. We now compete on a national level for faculty, staff, and students. Since we want the public to be aware of the remarkable opportunities available on our campus, it is desirable to increase the college's national visibility. We are therefore placing a higher priority on getting the word out about Davidson through media relations.
Stories about people and projects can illuminate Davidson's educational mission. Such stories showcase the excellence of our faculty and academic offerings, the professionalism and sophistication of our staff and programming, the character and quality of our students and alumni, the Honor Code, our commitment to service, our outstanding athletic program, and the vigorous community in which we work and play.
The College Communications staff seeks cooperation from staff and faculty members in identifying stories and responding to media questions when appropriate.
What It Means To Be One of the "Experts"
In addition to being prepared to talk with members of the media when they call, College Communications uses various email services to find out when a reporter is looking for an "expert" on a given subject. We may call or email to ask if you are willing to be contacted by a reporter. We encourage you to take the time to do this if the subject falls within your expertise, or let us know if there is a better Davidson contact for this topic. Because reporters work on daily deadlines, time is usually of the essence.
Please don't be put off by the term "expert." None of us likes to speak in the guise of the all-knowing. What representatitves of the media look for in the majority of cases is an authority to lend credence to the story, not the definitive, encyclopedic answer to some question.
What Makes a News Story?
If you think you have a story or a story tip, please email or call us. Here are some broad guidelines to things that interest the media:
- Research the public will be interested in. If you're not sure, call us anyway. We are interested in results as well as on-going projects. To maximize the impact of your story, we like to get the news out immediately before it is published. If you're working on something big that is about to appear in an academic journal, let us know.
- Expert commentary on breaking state, regional, national or international news. We can help you write an opinion/editorial, or let media know you have something important to say.
- Academic or non-academic stories that allow us to showcase the college, its mission, its students, or its faculty or staff.
- Trend stories: e.g., something that mirrors or parallels a regional or national story or trend such as distance learning, diversity initiatives; flood relief; innovative uses of the Internet; or a story that runs counter to such a trend (Honor Code in an era of dishonor).
- Public service or outreach projects. If it is out of this area, let us know before you visit a city or town, so we can work with local media.
- Books, authored or edited, that are about to be published
- Innovative courses. Courses that investigate current events, such as political science courses on the presidency during this election year, or an English seminar in "Feasts and Fasting; The Literature and Culture of Food" offer us opportunities to link our academic mission to the public interest.
- Unique or unusual awards, accomplishments, honors, or interests, academic or not. Conventional recognition like the Nobel Prize is naturally a good story, but remember to include projects or interests not related directly to your professional life. For example, a French professor's missionary service in Burundi; a physics professor's opera career; an economics professor's book of poetry; a sociology professor who is a storyteller; a pre-med student who is a champion equestrian; a chemistry major who is obsessed with the art, science, and taste of coffee- these make for good stories.
If a Reporter Calls...
Whenever a reporter contacts you, even if our office initiated the contact, please let us know. Here are some things to think about if a reporter contacts you, either spontaneously or as a result of our work in the College Communications office.
- Get the reporter's name and publication or broadcast station and ask exactly how you can help him or her.
- Are you the appropriate spokesperson? If you're not, refer the reporter to someone who is, or to College Communications at 894-2244; 2242; 2240.
- Try to see the reporter in person rather than talking over the phone. Distance and deadlines frequently make this impossible, but face-to-face communication is preferable, particularly when discussing complex material.
- If you feel unprepared, tell the reporter you will call back in 15 minutes or so. Collect your thoughts and then follow through on your promise to provide an interview.
- Have a message. Prepare a single communications objective and two or three secondary points you want to make, regardless of the questions you're asked.
- Conflict is news; the routine isn't. Reporters often frame their questions to bring out the conflict in a story. State your position in positive terms; don't repeat any negative words in the reporter's question. E.g., "I understand you are cruelly operating on animals in your laboratory." In your response, there is no need to repeat the word "cruel."
- Don't be afraid to take a strong stand, but don't fan media-made controversy.
- Anticipate the tough questions you may be asked and rehearse your answers (College Communications is happy to assist you). If they're not the questions you'd prefer to respond to, address them briefly and segue to what you want to say.
- Use simple language, rather than technical terms, and speak in short sentences.
- Be brief. Newspaper reporters can take more time in their interviews and present more information than can reporters from radio and TV. Eight seconds is the average length of a TV soundbite.
- Be friendly, but don't be lulled into flippancy or forced humor. Assume everything you say to a reporter (even in a social situation) may appear in print.
- Respect reporters' deadlines. Return phone calls promptly. In many cases, reporters need a response in minutes, not hours or days.
- Don't expect a reporter to show you a story before publication; it conflicts with journalistic ethics and professionalism. If you fear a point has not been understood, ask the reporter to repeat it. Encourage a follow-up phone call for further clarification or additional information if needed. If you're still concerned, ask the reporter to read you only your quotes once the story has been written.
- If you're misquoted, try to contact the reporter rather than the editor. But don't overreact, especially if the error is minor or not quite the choice of words you would have used.
- Avoid "no comment" answers. They suggest that you are trying to hide something or evade the question, so try to explain why you cannot make a comment.
- Remember that audiences (particularly television viewers) are won by the attitudes of those interviewed. Be knowledgeable, sincere, compassionate and energetic.
Federal law (FERPA) prohibits release of information about a student beyond what is termed "directory information." At Davidson, the following is considered directory information:
- student name
- home address
- Davidson post office address
- email address
- local phone number
- date and place of birth
- major field of study
- dates of attendance
- degrees and awards received
- the most recent educational institution attended by the student
- participation in officially recognized activities and sports
- weight and height of members of athletic teams
Note: Please note that a student's grade is NOT on the list of "directory information," and that we are thus forbidden to give out grade information -- whether GPA, class rank, or specific to a course -- without the student's explicit permission. Student schedules and parent names, addresses, and telephone numbers as well as any other information not listed above are not considered Directory Information and should not be released to outside sources. Students not listed in the directory may have requested that the college supply no directory information. As a general rule, please exercise common-sense prudence with regard to all directory information.If you have a question, check with the registrar.
- Whether the interview is at the media's or your initiative, you will want to talk about your subject in clear and simple terms. Use everyday-life analogies to clarify, personalize, or humanize your message.
- Above all, be honest. In some cases, the truth may hurt, but lies are deadly. And if you don't know an answer to a question, say so.
College Communications Media Relations Staff
Meg Kimmel, Director of College Communications 894-2242/892-5584
Bill Giduz, Director of Media Relations 894-2244/ 894-1296
Jonathan Crooms, Media Relations Fellow 894-2241
Pat Burgess, Office Manager 894-2240