Engaging with the Media

Why do it?

  • Expand your reach—As a think tank researcher, your direct publications won't get many eyeballs. It is mostly through larger media organizations sharing your recommendations and findings that you actually have policy impact.
  • Get quoted—The more your name is quoted on a topic, the more you're recognized as a subject matter expert. There is a snowballing effect here. This recognition may also expand future grants and speaking opportunities.
  • Distill your work—Interviews force you to consider, "Why does my research matter? What are the main takeaways? What are my assumptions?" We should be thinking of these questions generally, but speaking with journalists adds a cost to failure. It makes you put skin in the game.

How do you prepare for interviews?

  • Prepare for expected questions. Don't just think about them—write them out, and clearly organize your responses. Re-read your related research. Read more recently published literature.
  • Consult with colleagues. This is easier if you're emailed questions, in which case you can share your responses with colleagues and ask for their feedback. But even if you're not given questions in advance, you may chat through the subject and your views.
  • Organize your three key points. Focus the conversation on those points and respectfully avoid tangents that you're not prepared to discuss.
  • Ensure that you have access to a good camera and microphone when joining a recorded interview or podcast.
  • Ensure you know and can share your sources of information. Note people who can answer questions that you can't answer.
  • Be at your A-game. That means having enough sleep, food, sun, and exercise.

When should you reject an interview?

  • You're asked to speak on a subject for which you're not an expert, or at least not significantly better than their alternative speaker.
  • You're asked to respond immediately on breaking news. When the BBC emails at 6:30am for a TV spot on a Middle East crisis, they're giving you a ripe opportunity to screw something up or accidentally share dis/misinformation.
  • You're busy with deep work and engagement is unlikely to have wide viewership. I strongly support local journalism, but I won't drop things for them like I would for NYT or WSJ.
  • Your interviewer is adversarial or has a poor reputation. Review their past publications, interviews, and podcasts before agreeing to an interview, especially if they are from an unknown media outlet. You should know some of their history and biases.