Emily Porter shares the top five lessons she learned from a media training workshop with the BBSRC.
Contributor Emily Porter
Engaging with the media is important and is an effective way of communicating messages to millions of people worldwide. It provides the opportunity to enthuse and inform the public about your research, as well as the potential to create new collaborations, increase funding and add to debates.
These days, to get your research noticed, you need to be proactive. Part of this is getting your science out there using traditional media, such as TV, radio and newspaper but also social media, such as Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and so on.
But where to start? I signed up for a media training day run by the BBSRC, which included practical sessions focussing on writing for the media and dealing with radio interviews, as well as theoretical sessions around social and digital media and working with your press office. Here’s what I found out:
Prepare. Think before you speak. Science journalists often have a reputation (albeit unfair) for reporting science inaccurately. However, a study by Sumner and colleagues, focussing on health related science news and portrayal by the press, found that much of the exaggeration in the media was already present in the press release complied by the research institute itself, based upon information provided by the scientists. Sign up for media training at your university or institute if they offer it. If not, check with your funding body as they may also offer courses to researchers.
Structure. If you want to write a press release or news article, use the 5 W’s as a template for your first paragraph – Who, What, When, Where, Why. This ensures that if the reader doesn’t bother progressing past this point or if your article is edited, then they still know the key facts. Also think about ‘Who cares?’ as this will help you create a ‘hook’ to draw readers in right from the beginning of your article. This is easier in some subjects than others, for example, anything that has an impact on health will generally get most people’s attention.
Language. We played a game in which we were each given a piece of paper with a scientific word written on it. The words were all selected from a pre-course exercise involving a short description of our research. The aim of the game was to give a definition of the word within 3 seconds of reading it. If it wasn’t possible to do this, then that word should be avoided as the chances are your reader or listener won’t understand it either. A great illustration of this is ‘Ten hundred words of Science’ where you can only use the 1000 most used words in the English language to describe your research.
Share. Social media isn’t scary. You don’t need a million followers on Twitter. Whether you want to use it for networking or simply for raising awareness of your research, the best approach is to follow, tweet or message other researchers who do have a large number of followers. When they share your post, hundreds of people will see it with minimal effort from you. Again, talk to press officers and enlist their help if you are unsure where to start. For example, BBSRC helps its researchers produce short YouTube videos about their research.
Personality. Be animated when doing interviews, but also in situations such as writing a blog post. Tracey Logan played ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams in the background to hype us up before our mock radio interviews. This song perfectly illustrates the fact that, most obviously, you need positive energy to engage people, and also provides a guide to the rhythm at which you should speak. Remember, people can’t see you on the radio so a helpful hint is to do your interview standing up as this allows you to move around and gesture which consequently will come across in your tone of voice.
If you need any further persuasion, an Ipsos MORI poll found that 59% of people said that television was their main source of science information and 23% of people said that newspapers were. So whether you update your Twitter account, get in touch with your press office or chat to your local radio station, remember, if you don’t talk about your area of science then someone else will!
In the next post I share my experiences from the British Science Association’s 2015 science communication conference.