Tips for Working with the Media During an Outbreak

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Communications Office frequently receives calls from media regarding school outbreaks. The office can assist you in framing your responses to likely media questions. In fact, they may receive a call about your outbreak independently of you. The MDH Communications Office would appreciate a call from you prior to speaking to the media, so that messages can be coordinated and consistent.

  • To speak to a MDH information officer, call the Communications Office at 651-201-4989.

Some schools’ policies prohibit direct media contact and would prefer all media inquiries be referred to MDH.

The information in this section is designed to help you understand how to work with the media to deliver your public health messages. Read through the accompanying material to help you prepare for an encounter with the media.

  • Select a spokesperson that has a good understanding of an issue.
  • Anticipate the kinds of questions the reporter will ask.
  • Develop talking points for the spokesperson:
    • No more than five talking points, brief and focused (“sound bites”)
    • Provide background to help the reporter understand the story or the underlying concepts necessary for the reporter to get the story right.
  • Be sensitive to a reporter’s deadline and the demands of news gathering
  • Respond promptly to media requests for information and interviews.
  • Returning a reporter’s call the next day is not helpful.
  • Ask the reporter questions to help determine the focus or slant of the reporter’s or producer’s story:
    • What is the focus or angle of the story?
    • Who else will be interviewed? Has the reporter or producer contacted other public health agencies, a local elected official, the State?
  • Generally, all interviews are on-the-record, and you should presume that the reporter would use anything that you say.
  • Stop and rephrase your answer if this is a taped interview; they can “fix” or delete.
  • Take a moment to think of a response and ask to have a question clarified—no need to rush.
  • If you don’t know an answer, say so.
  • Answer the question in short sentences and stop talking when you’ve made your point.
  • Don’t say anything to a reporter you would not want to see on air or in print.
  • Don’t use acronyms.
  • Be prepared to have a contact name, number, or website.

Updated Wednesday, 17-Nov-2010 14:28:24 CST