Tools for working with the media


Throughout this website, reference has been made to key tools for working with the media. These include:

This section provides brief information on developing these key tools in line with the Mindframe principles. They are vital for any individuals or organisations planning to work with the media. It will be most useful for those with limited experience of working with the media or who do not have a media unit.


MHS IconDeveloping a media policy

A media policy is a useful tool that can support an approach to media communications that is consistent with both the stated aims and position of the organisation and best practice principles for reporting suicide and mental illness. Whether your organisation intends to actively seek media coverage, respond to media requests for information or just respond to media coverage, it is worth taking the time to put together a media policy.


Ensure consistency with umbrella organisations

  • Media policies should be developed in line with those of umbrella organisations. For example, area health services should refer to State Health Department policies, and state branches of non-government organisations should refer to the policies of the national organisation.
  • Locate copies of umbrella organisation policies with your local policy.
  • Individual health professionals may wish to contact their professional body or check their website for a copy of their media policy.

Outline the organisation’s plan and goals for working with the media

  • What will be the extent of the organisation's involvement with the media? 
  • Will it actively seek coverage, respond to requests for information or comment, or respond to reporting?
  • What are the key messages the organisation wants to communicate through the media?
  • What are the areas of expertise that the organisation will provide information or comment on to the media?

Outline organisational infrastructure for working with the media

  • Does the organisation have a media/public affairs department or officer?
  • If so, what are the specific roles of this department or person?
  • How can they be contacted?

Identify who within the organisation is authorised to speak to the media

  • Are there specific people within the organisation who are authorised to speak to the media? Who are these people?
  • Are there any circumstances under which other individuals may be authorised to speak to the media?
  • Are there other ways in which people can be involved in working with the media? For example, providing information or suggesting stories to the media unit.

Identify the actions individuals should take when approached by the media

  • You may wish to identify actions for those who are and are not authorised to deal with the media.
  • First actions usually involve taking details of the approaching media professional and the request, and arranging to call back before the deadline. You may wish to specifically list the questions that should be asked.
  • In organisations with a media unit it is typical for all media requests to be handled through this unit.

Outline procedures for authorised individuals managing media requests

  • Outline the do’s and don’ts for those handling media requests. These will be related to both the organisation’s position and Mindframe principles of portraying suicide and mental illness in the media.
  • Outline any other relevant policies
  • Consider other issues relevant to media involvement such as privacy and confidentiality, media access to facilities, etc.

Ensure consistency with best practice principles as outlined by Mindframe

  • Ensure any guidance provided is consistent with recommendations for best practice as outlined in this website.
  • Specifically outline Mindframe suggestions relevant to each section of your policy.
  • Locate this resource, or at least the associated quick reference card with your policy.

MHS IconTips for preparing a media release

  • A media release is the most common way to pitch a story to the media. An effective media release will include key messages and alert the media to a story, raising enough interest for them to want to find out more.

Formatting your media release

  • Use A4 paper, letterhead if available. If you do not have access to letterhead put the contact details in the top right hand corner of the page.
  • Use normal upper and lower case type and double spacing (or 1.5) in between lines of text. Only use one side of the paper and allow ample margins at the top and bottom of the page.
  • Put 'MEDIA RELEASE' at the top of the page in the centre in bold capitals. Put the date of issue and either 'FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE' or any embargo at the top right of the page. (Embargo means that the media shouldn’t act on the information until the date specified.)
  • The release should be only one page in total.
  • Include the name and contact details of people who can be contacted for further information at the bottom. Identified contact people must be available out of hours.

Content

  • Give the release a short clear heading, to grab attention.
  • The first paragraph should be a self-contained summary of the most important points of the story. Try to answer the questions: who, what, where, and when, as well as why and how.
  • The paragraphs following should contain the remaining information in order of importance.
  • Paragraphs should be only one or two sentences.
  • Write in a simple and concise manner with short sentences (less than 15 words), containing one idea.
  • Use simple language and avoid jargon or abbreviations.
  • Quotes (with sources) from noteworthy or prominent people, statistics and photographs will add to the appeal of your release.
  • Make sure your information is accurate and proofread it.
  • List the Mindframe website address at the bottom of your release.

Distribution

  • Send your release by fax or email.
  • Follow up with a phone call to offer further information or a spokesperson for interview or photo opportunities.

MHS IconInterviews

Interviews can be an effective way to get your messages into the media. They may also be challenging and may not always have the desired outcome. Each approach from the media for interview should be considered individually and thought given as to whether or not to participate.

If a decision is taken to participate in an interview, time should be invested in planning to achieve the best possible outcome.

This section contains issues to consider when making a decision whether to participate and planning for interviews.


Deciding whether to participate in an interview

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to participate in a media interview:

  • Never agree to participate in a media interview without first consulting with your organisation's Media Unit or Public Affairs Department.
  • Find out what you can about the interviewer.

Try to look at some of their previous work (preferably on the same or a related topic) and evaluate it in terms of: their attitude to the subject; whether their reporting is fair and accurate; whether they might be receptive to your view; and whether you like their style.

  • Find out what you can about the interview. Ask the journalist:

Why they want to do the interview?

What angle they are planning on taking?

Whether anyone else will be interviewed?

How long the interview will be?

Whether they require pictures?

Will the interview be live or pre-recorded?

While it is unlikely you will be provided with the questions in advance it is quite reasonable to ask what subjects they are planning to cover. 

  • Ask yourself:

Whether you can give the information that the journalist requires?

What would be the benefits and disadvantages of doing the interview?

Only do the interview if you feel comfortable.

If you decide not to participate in the interview consider whether you can refer the journalist to another suitable contact.

 

It is best to participate in an interview if you:

  • Are able to manage your feelings about the issue and aren’t at risk of becoming too angry or upset.
  • Are not too personally involved with the issue being reported.
  • Have time to prepare.
  • Are authorised to participate.
  • Are currently well, and believe that participating will not cause you unmanageable stress.
  • Have good support.
  • Feel confident about talking to the media about the subject matter.
  • Feel your right to privacy will be respected.
  • Trust the motives of the journalist will fit with your reasons for wanting to do the interview.
  • Are comfortable with the effect your participation may have on your family or community.

If you are not confident of any of the above issues it may be better to wait and participate at another time.


If you decide to participate

  • Be available and respond promptly but do not go into an interview without giving yourself time to prepare. For example, if a radio program calls wanting you to participate in an interview ask if you can call back in 10 minutes (or however long you need to compose yourself and prepare).
  • Know your subject and your organisation well. If you are not completely familiar with the information then arrange to be briefed before the interview by someone else in the organisation. Gather together relevant facts and statistics you may wish to refer to during the interview. This is important even if you do not have long to prepare.
  • Define the message you want to get across and tailor it to the target audience. A useful exercise may be to have a colleague or friend repeatedly ask you what your key message is until you can respond with a clear, succinct statement.
  • Identify approximately three main points and keep coming back to these during the interview. You could write these points on a card and refer to it during the interview if necessary.
  • Consider the language you use in the interview and whether it is relevant for the target audience. For example, what language should you use for a youth program or a program aimed at Indigenous Australians.
  • Keep your message simple, speak in short succinct sentences and avoid jargon.
  • Anecdotes and examples help to get the message across, try to have a one or two ready.
  • Do not just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’; answer in sentences that may be quoted. Don’t feel like you have to keep the interview going, answer the question and then stop talking.
  • Be as open and cooperative as possible, stay calm and don’t buy into an argument. Keep your message positive.
  • If there are things you think need to be added (primarily for print media) ask the journalist if you can contact them with further information, and then make sure you do so if this is agreed.
  • Do not say anything you do not want reported, ‘off the record’ is not guaranteed.
  • Do not be drawn into commenting on something you have not prepared for or are not certain of the accuracy of any answer you might give.
  • Have a practise interview with friends or colleagues.

Handling tricky questions

  • Ask the interviewer to clarify difficult, ambiguous or leading questions.
  • Instead of saying ‘no comment’, say that you are unable to answer the question and give a reason why, e.g. ‘That is out of my area of experience.’
  • Skirt questions rather than refusing to answer, make passing reference to the question and then direct your response to broader issues or new information.
  • If a story is about adverse events, do not give unnecessary information that may worsen the situation, e.g. do not give added details about a suicide death.
  • Avoid answering ‘what if’ questions.
  • Try to keep coming back to your three main points.