Conversations with the Media
Speaking to a larger audience by way of media intermediaries (journalists, news reporters, or science writers) provides an opportunity to disseminate information about your work and its implications to a wider audience. Bring up the human connections to your work, both in terms of how the work itself is done, and the potential implications of the work to other people. In general, focus on the main outcomes and implications of your work. Listen carefully and thoughtfully to the questions, and make sure you answer all the questions.
Being interviewed by the media can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences a scientist can go through, especially if your research is in any way controversial. If you have never done an interview with the media before, contact your university’s or organization’s media relations office for help. Remember, if a member of the press contacts you, there is no reason for you to reply or speak to them immediately without first conferring with your own internal media relations office.
Ask Me Anything/Ask the Expert
On websites such as Reddit and Twitter, “Ask Me Anything” sessions have become a popular way for the media and the general public to communicate directly with experts on various topics of interest. Similarly, the media relations department where you work may keep a list of experts who can speak intelligently on topics that frequently come up in the media. These experts become the go-to person for journalists when they need a complex topic explained in simple terms. If you feel comfortable talking with the media, you may offer yourself as an expert source to your media relations professionals.
The Press Release Process
Occasionally, published research merits promotion through a press release. Your media relations personnel can help you determine if your work is newsworthy or not. The process from published research to press release is straightforward but begins BEFORE your work is officially published in a journal. In short, if you have research that will be published soon (for example, within the next month), the best course of action is to contact the journal where it will be published and inform them you will be allowing your media relations team access to read it. It is perfectly fine to do this; your organization’s media team knows not to publicize your work before it is actually published. This is referred to as an embargo. They may also conduct an interview with you and the lead investigator and will ask for images or multimedia to go with their press release. In most cases, the principal investigator or lead investigator will not be writing the press release, but you should be able to review it. When the press release is approved by all parties and the publishing embargo on the paper has lifted, your press release will be distributed to thousands of media outlets. Some will run this press release as is, while others will re-report it and possibly contact you for a follow up. Prepare for possible interviews.
- Our paper is accepted for publication and we would like to coordinate a press release. What is the process?
- A short summary from Elsevier containing advice from journalists on how scientists can help media do their work
- Advice from AAAS on how to work with the media to best provide accurate information
- An article that helps describe ways one can write articles about science to the general public, and how it differs from the kind of journal article writing most scientists are used to
- Two references that outline what is needed for effective science writing and communicating your ideas to the public: Blum D, Knudson M, and Henig RM, eds. A Field Guide for Science Writers – The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers (2nd ed). 2006. Oxford University Press and Dean, C. Am I making myself clear? A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public Harvard U. Press