How to politely decline an interview

 June 23, 2008

With all the work you do trying to get the media’s attention, it’s exciting when a reporter or producer calls or sends an e-mail, saying they want to talk to an expert. But just because they’ve asked for an interview, doesn’t mean you should always agree to do it. There are a few reasons you may not want to do an interview. You may not know much about the subject matter. Maybe it’s a story that you may feel is ethically questionable. You simply may not have the time that works with the reporter’s deadline.

When you get a call, it’s okay to decline the interview. Here are some ideas on how to say “no thanks,” and maintain a good relationship with the reporter.

  • Promptly return the call, even if it’s just to say you can’t do the interview.
  • Say why you can’t do the interview. If you’re not the best expert for a topic, say so. “That’s an interesting story idea, but something that another psychologist may have a better understanding about. You may want to contact [insert name here].” If you are too busy, politely let them know, and offer to do the interview when you are available, if that’s an option.
  • Be careful about what you say. Anything you say or write could show up in an article, even if you said no to an interview. Avoid speculating—if you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it. Also avoid saying anything that sounds like “no comment.” To a reporters’ ears—and to a readers’ eyes—the phrase sounds defensive.
  • Redirect them to another source. Sometimes a reporter just needs a starting point to get on the right track. Even if you can’t answer their questions, you’ll win points by connecting them with someone who can. That may mean sharing on the name of a colleague who is comfortable with the media, an organization or another relevant resource.
  • If in doubt, contact someone at your state or provincial association or any of us in APA’s Practice PR. We can help you decide if you should do the interview or refer it elsewhere.

Depending on your previous work with the media outlet and your comfort level, you may also want to follow up, asking if they need anything else or suggesting a new story idea—one of which you can be the expert source.

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