Running start… to a great career: Working with the media
Psychologists give advice on sharing your expertise with the public.
When a producer from the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz called Ali Mattu, PhD, an assistant professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, about appearing on the show, he was thrilled. “I love what they do so the opportunity to work with them was exciting,” says Mattu, who has also been quoted in the New York Times and Buzzfeed. The interview also served Mattu’s mission of sharing psychological science broadly. “It’s our responsibility as psychologists to work with the media to give psychology away,” he says.
Are you interested in being interviewed by journalists or other personalities in the media? Mattu and Erlanger Turner, PhD, a private practitioner and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown who’s been quoted in O: The Oprah Magazine, YES! and local TV, share these tips:
- Overcome imposter syndrome. When Mattu received his first interview requests, he hesitated. “I thought, ‘Don’t speak to me, speak to the experts I cited in my dissertation,” he remembers. “It took a long time to understand that I do have a lot of unique knowledge that can help this person do their job.” That said, he adds, suggest alternative sources if the subject is legitimately outside your area of competence.
- Make yourself easy to find. Turner’s active Twitter account, the blog he writes for Psychology Today and his own website all help reporters find him. “If you’re interested in media work, you have to be present on social media—especially Twitter,” says Turner. “If you’re not on Twitter, it’s much more difficult to establish these kinds of connections.”
- Build relationships. Media appearances typically prompt additional invitations, since they boost your credibility among reporters and producers. Make yourself useful so that reporters feel comfortable asking you what’s new. And once you’ve built a relationship with a reporter or producer, your institution’s communications department can collaborate with you when pitching story ideas.
- Do your homework—but not too much. Journalists will typically just give you a general idea of the topic beforehand, not specific questions, says Mattu. Have three to five talking points you’d like to get across, he suggests, adding that you can review that list at the interview’s end when most journalists will ask if there’s anything else you’d like to share. However, don’t try to come up with soundbites beforehand. “Reporters are coming to you to have a dialogue,” says Mattu, urging psychologists to share personal stories and be transparent about their emotions on the topic. “They’re coming to you to make the information alive in some way.”
- Be easy to work with. Respond to interview requests promptly. “If you wait a few days because you’re anxious about it or just really busy, the person has potentially moved on to someone else,” says Mattu. Avoid jargon. In special circumstances, you may be allowed to review a pre-publication draft of an article for which you were interviewed. Discuss any inaccuracies in the draft with the reporter, but don’t start rewriting. Media training, often available through your institution or at venues like APA’s Annual Convention, can help you learn more about how to share your thoughts effectively.