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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-074

Communications Reference Guide

Chapter 9—Guidelines for Media Relations

In addition to the standard research reports, technical flyers, and brochures, there are many other ways to disseminate research results and information about the activities and accomplishments of FHWA research and technology. Researchers should look first to our own periodical publications: Public Roads, R&T Transporter, and FOCUS. These periodicals are distributed to audiences both within and outside FHWA.

When a manager or researcher needs to reach a more specific audience or the general public, it may be appropriate to seek further outreach—in a press release, an interview, or through publication in trade journals. Conversely, members of the press often contact researchers directly for technical commentary. Establishing and conducting media relations, writing news releases, participating in interviews, and publishing in trade journals are activities requiring participation of FHWA's Office of Public Affairs.

Note: If you are contacted by a reporter, contact the Office of Public Affairs immediately.

Trade Publication Articles

Any R&T technical articles submitted for publication in journals and magazines outside FHWA must be edited by HRTM. Upon final edit and review, HRTM will submit the article to the Office of Public Affairs for final review and submission to the magazine or journal. HRTM also is available to write magazine articles from scratch. A trade publication may be an appropriate vehicle to provide information to your intended audience. If so, please contact HRTM for writing or editing articles for trade publications. HRTM will work with the Office of Public Affairs for review after editing. To publish articles in trade publications:

  • Provide guidance to HRTM regarding the trade publication style, deadlines, and editorial office contacts.

  • Provide HRTM with your article idea and substantial background information from which to draft the article, or provide a draft version of the article for HRTM to edit.

  • Include illustrations (print, slides, or electronic images) to support the text. Generally, a minimum of one illustration for every 600 words is required.

  • Include the author's name, professional title, employer/organization/office, mailing address, telephone number, fax number, and e-mail address. Also attach a short biographical paragraph of every author, including previous positions relevant to the subject of the article, and educational background/degrees received. If applicable, also include the State(s) where an author is licensed as a professional engineer.

Technical Review

All articles for external periodicals (e.g., trade journals) and direct media contact must be reported to the Office of Public Affairs for review, possible editing, and distribution by FHWA's Office of Public Affairs. Before submission to the Office of Public Affairs, the draft release or external trade journal article must have the written endorsement of the appropriate office director, indicating that the release or article is accurate, is consistent with USDOT policies and positions, addresses sensitive or timely issues, and is appropriate for mass dissemination.

Because publication in periodicals requires a longer leadtime than placement in newspapers or broadcast media, authors should contact the journal editorial staff for publishing deadlines.

Responding to the Media

When the Office of Public Affairs asks you to respond to a member of the media, please observe the following 12 rules:

  1. You work for FHWA, not the media.

  2. A reporter's deadline is not necessarily your deadline. You do not necessarily have to respond immediately to a request for information. Make sure you are prepared before you respond to the media (or any other public group or organization).

  3. Determine whether FHWA is the proper Agency for the inquiry. Often, other Federal agencies, State DOTs, local agencies, or others are the appropriate sources for responses to many inquiries.

  4. Establish or confirm ground rules (e.g., on the record, on background, off the record) and the conditions (live or taped, on camera or not, etc.) before any interview starts. The Office of Public Affairs can explain these options and counsel you about the most appropriate choices.

  5. Find out as much as you can about the news organization and reporter with whom you are dealing. You may find it helpful to know if the reporter has covered transportation issues before, or whether the news organization has printed or aired stories about the subject you are talking about. The Office of Public Affairs can assist you.

  6. Stress two or three main points that you want to get across. Stress them at the beginning and the end of the interview, and remain on them throughout. Other information you may provide should support one or more of your main message points.

  7. Provide the information (in your expertise area) for which you are asked—no less, no more. Avoid commenting on subjects in which you have little or no expertise.

  8. Avoid speculation. Never answer a question that begins, "What do you think..." Go with what you know.

  9. Decline answers to hypothetical questions. Never answer any question that begins, "What if..." Again, go with what you know.

  10. Respond to questions and provide information as a representative of FHWA, adhering to the FHWA perspective and not offering your individual perspective or personal opinion. Never answer a question that begins, "That's the Agency's position, but what do you think about..." (See #1.)

  11. Avoid questions involving legal matters. A standard response to any question on an issue or a subject that involves previous, ongoing, or pending litigation is: "This matter is (or will be) the subject of legal action; I have no comment." Refer the reporter to the Office of Public Affairs.

  12. The media is not simply another "customer." The media is a means of mass communication—one of several the Agency uses in its outreach and communication efforts and activities. The media's message can either help or hinder FHWA's mission. HRTM wants our participation in this process of disseminating information to the public and other audiences to be as helpful to FHWA as possible.

Chapter 8—Electronic Publishing
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