As a researcher with expertise in climate science you may be asked for an interview or to write an article. You may be flattered by the phone call and respond with “yes” but there are times you should say “no”. Just because the media wants to talk to you, does not mean you have to talk to them.
You should also recognise that as scientists we each have three opinions: our expert opinion (e.g., things we have published on), our informed opinion (e.g., science we know a great deal about as it is related to our expertise or teaching), and our personal opinion (e.g., things outside our immediate discipline like economic policy). Think carefully about defining what these are for you, as this should help guide what you should and should not comment on.
When to say no.
- Don’t be rushed. Never say yes when a reporter calls for an immediate comment because he/she is “right on a deadline”. Some reporters will use urgency to get you to say something that you might not have said if you had more time to consider it.
- Only talk on areas of your expertise. Always say no when the interview is outside of your area of expertise. (You will see senior colleagues sometimes use their informed opinion for media comments, which can be justified by their broad experience and established expertise and reputation in a range of areas. ECRs should definitely avoid this)
- Know your reporter. Some media has an agenda (doh!) and you do not want to get caught up in that. If in doubt, seek advice (this also buys you time).
- Your priorities come first. Say no if you simply do not have time.
- Consider saying no if the interview could present issues for your colleagues. If you want to continue working with them consider the impacts of your statements on these groups.
How to say no, nicely
- Deflect the request to your media manager. Tell the reporter that interviews should go via the communications manager and to call them. The communications manager can assess whether the interview is useful, if it is in your area of expertise and help you prepare.
- If the subject matter is outside your area of expertise or you don’t have time to do the interview, be upfront with the reporter and say that. Suggest the reporter contacts your media office or the Centre’s media office.
How to say no during an interview
You can and often should say no even once an interview has started, particularly if they are taking you into areas you prefer not to go. So, how do you deal with these situations?
- When a question is outside of your expertise, say exactly that to the interviewer. You can suggest someone else would be better to answer that question. This brings the interview back to your expertise.
- If the interview starts to ask for your opinion on policy or other matters that you do not feel comfortable discussing you can say “That is really a question for policymakers. My role is to produce the research that helps them set policy priorities”.
- Sometimes a reporter might be trying to get a specific (controversial) quote and ask: “Would you say that <insert quote here>”. You can respond with “No, but what I would say is …”.
Aim to work with three key points and be properly prepared. Know in advance what you want to say and how you want to say it in the most succinct manner possible. You can find tips and suggestions on this and other key preparation points here.