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How I decide whether or not to give an interview to a journalist

I’m quite selective about what journalists/ publication I’ll agree to an interview with, as well as what topics I’ll agree to speak about. I turn down ten or so interviews for every one that I agree to give, though I will often recommend alternative experts for journalists to interview.

First and foremost, if I don’t have time, I won’t do a media interview. My primary job is to focus on my Ph.D. research so I can finish and graduate. If it means helping a friend or taking advantage of an amazing opportunity for exposure, I may be able to reshuffle around some time, but that’s only for exceptional circumstances. Similarly, I’ll generally only do interviews before or after work, while I’m in the car between campus and home, or during my lunch break, because my main job comes first.

Secondly, I won’t speak about topics outside of my area of expertise. Doing this has the potential to seriously annoy colleagues, and there’s no upside (at all) to doing it. This includes commenting on other people’s research, unless I’ve previously asked them if they’re comfortable with me doing this. Journalists, I know you like to get feedback from an expert not associated with that specific project, but scientists sometimes see it as someone else taking credit for their work. And I will never publicly criticize a colleague’s research in the media, regardless of my private feelings about it.

Thirdly, if I don’t know you and you ask me to do an interview, I will look up some examples of your writing to see if you do a good job covering scientific or environmental issues. If you take things out of context or present issues unfairly, I won’t agree to an interview. And if I can’t find any evidence that you’ve written about this stuff at all, that’s a huge red flag for me. I recently turned down a TV interview on “Fox and Friends,” for example, because the hosts don’t have a great reputation for accurately covering scientific and environmental topics.

I think about whether commenting on this issue will help advance my goals related to shark conservation and public education about the ocean. I’ll happily talk about cool new discoveries or conservation issues, but I’m less eager to help give media coverage to fearmongering stories of sharks biting people. And if I don’t particularly care about a given topic, I’m less likely to want to comment on it.

Finally, if you’re rude or pushy, that’s almost certain to be a deal-breaker for me. Talking to journalists is not my job, it’s something I do in my free time as part of an outreach strategy about ocean science and conservation. If you’re being unpleasant, there’s nothing at all forcing me to put up with you.

So there you have it, folks. If you’re a friendly journalist with a good record of covering scientific or environmental issues and you are asking me about issues I care about that are in my area of expertise, I’m happy to provide a quote…if I have time. If not, no thanks.