Journalists, and certainly those dealing with news, are invariably in a hurry. For those working in newspapers and broadcasting, this haste is entirely genuine. They may well be pursuing several stories in a single day, against the clock. But rapidity is also built into the media culture, so that anything (an interview, a photograph...) tends to be wanted instantly.
There are also more practical considerations if your story or message is to appear in the media when you want it too and if at all. Newspapers usually have two internal news conferences to determine what will be in the paper the next day. If a press release misses the early evening conference, your story is unlikely to make it to print the next day unless it really is important. The best time of the day to contact a news desk is early to mid morning, yet this may not be suitable for an evening paper or a lunchtime radio or television news bulletin. The shelf life of a story is also painfully short: a long term research project releases its result on a Friday afternoon; by the time of the next possible major news outlet on Monday, it will be considered old news and unlikely to get a place in the schedule. Afternoon press conferences are not a good way of getting communications into the media, and especially not on a Friday.
In reality, while journalists greatly appreciate an immediate response, it is perfectly reasonable that anyone approached by a reporter should ask for time to consider the request and how to respond.
If a journalist approaches you, in person or by telephone, make sure from the outset that you really understand what they want, what publication or programme they represent and how they propose to use any comments you make. In the case of radio and television, you should find out whether a proposed interview will be live or recorded, what is the format of the programme and who else will be taking part.
Even if you are satisfied on these points, you may want to collect your thoughts. Ask the caller to ring back in 20-30 minutes. Alternatively, say that you will return the call but be absolutely sure that you do so. During the interim, you can also consult colleagues. Press officers in companies, universities and elsewhere can also be invaluable in providing guidance about particular journalists, publications and programmes and their past track-record.
In the long-term, some people find it mutually rewarding to become acquainted with individual journalists who deal with scientific issues, whether nationally or locally. While this should certainly not provide automatic channels through which to gain media publicity, such relationships can be of value to both parties and increase mutual confidence.
Adopted from EFB Task Group on Public Perceptions of Biotechnology