Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Standing up for Science Media Workshop

The idea of interacting with media outlets, and using them as a platform to communicate research to the wider public is often a daunting prospect for early career researchers. They lack exposure to the machinations of the media, and examples of poorly reported science, as well as limited media and PR training combined with often irrational fears leave them insufficiently prepared to deal with media. Consequently, young researchers often neglect the media as a very effective stage for communicating their science. A recently held “Standing Up for Science Media workshop” hosted by Sense About Science (www.senseaboutscience.org) at the Royal Society of Edinburgh was a timely forum for several young scientists to discuss the often fractious relationship between science and the media and to question panellists including academics, journalists, the University of Edinburgh’s PR officer, members of Sense About Science and the Voice of Young Science as well as other media industry professionals.

The panel of academics gave insightful examples of both positive and negative experiences gained over years of dealing with media, as well as a series of useful tips on coping with journalists, preparing items for media, and how best to condense and communicate often complex science to the general public. Journalists from both TV and the print media explained their approach to reporting stories; what they consider of public interest and their relationship with scientists. Explanation of the incredibly strict and inflexible deadlines that journalists work to also helped to clarify the process of identifying a story and taking it through to completion. The workshop provided practical advice, guidance and resources as well as valuable ideas on how best to approach journalists with newsworthy research.

One of the main topics that came up during the discussions and questioning was the issue of accountability: journalists are responsible for reporting stories that are of public interest, and scientists for their work, particularly, since public funding underpins substantial amounts of research. The now classic example of the “Climategate” emails scandal (with hacked email correspondence between scientists allegedly intimating that climate change was being over-exaggerated) highlighted inadequacies on both sides. The ambivalence of some scientists involved makes them easy targets for accusations of arrogance and habitation of the ivory towers of academia. Conversely, hysterical reporting of the story and subsequent vindication of the scientists highlighted some of the inherent inadequacies of the journalistic process. The general consensus was that scientists need to openly engage with the media in order to avoid such criticisms, which as a consequence would also help to lessen the risks of poor, misrepresented reporting.

Another significant issue that came up during the workshop was the relationship between scientists and journalists, and in particular the issue of trust. Scientists gave examples of inaccurate and potentially career-damaging reporting of work by journalists with whom they had built up seemingly good relationships, and how conversations and correspondence should never be considered “off the record”. The journalists, admittedly from very well respected media outlets, then espoused the virtues of trust between scientists and themselves, and the importance of building good working relationships. Given the disparity of the two views the conclusion was that building meaningful relationships between scientists and journalists is very important for effective dissemination and reporting of science, whilst being careful to acknowledge the importance of discretion, astuteness and some common sense in dealings with journalists.

Some closing comments from the panel of journalists regarding the decline of print media, large-scale redundancies at several agencies, and the rise of online news resources (of often questionable quality) highlighted the critical juncture facing modern media. With journalists under pressure from all angles to find ever more exclusive and newsworthy articles, the emphasis has firmly shifted to scientists, who need to engage more efficiently with the press in order to ensure the most accurate and effective representation of their science to the public.

Andrew Cross is a research associate at the UK Biochar Research Centre

Comments

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.