How to deal with the press
MAASTRICHT. Can you trust journalists? A researcher who is not used to dealing with the media, can become quite nervous about a newspaper, radio, or TV interview. The fear that the research project will not be presented well or is even distorted, is often huge, say the writers of Prepare for 15 seconds of fame. Media contacts for researchers.
“But you’re not the first person to have to deal with the press,” they continue. “Numerous colleagues have done it before you.” They know that media attention usually leads to more appreciation and understanding of the scientific work. And that, in turn, is good for the researcher’s reputation.
Prepare for 15 seconds of fame is a handy booklet that helps researchers who come in contact with the press. The authors - Marcel Hulspas (journalist), Fred Balvert (communication advisor and researcher), and Souad Zgaoui (communication advisor) - speak from experience, and in the first chapters they take their time to explain the difference between the work of a journalist and that of a researcher. They warn that journalists do not want a summary of the research article. They are looking for news, want to know what this research could mean for their readers and therefore often put their conclusions in the first sentence (and not the result of an analysis) and if possible they will link it to a current event. To them it is about the broad outlines, details are of less interest. If there are other views, then they will refer to those as well. After all, an important principle in journalism is: all sides should be heard. Or, always approach the matter from various perspectives. If they can include a personal story about or experience by the researcher in the article, then they won’t hesitate to do so. It makes it less boring and more readable.
How does the researcher get the attention of the media? Press conferences? The three authors are clearly not great fans of that. Only if there is something special – like a breakthrough in cancer research, a new Nobel Prize winner or a case of plagiarism – that needs reporting, they think. “Journalists don’t like it.” It is not “exclusive” enough for them if they are in a hall full of colleagues.
A press release, on the other hand (either digital or by post), they believe is a good way to reach the press. The researcher then has the initiative and can formulate the main message personally. Make sure that the message is short (no more than an A4), readable by a lay audience, and with a crystal clear thread.
Then the interview. The three authors emphasise that proper preparation is worth its weight in gold. Don’t write pages full of possible questions, but think about what the key message is. Try to formulate this in as few words as possible and in simple language – “avoid jargon”. How few words? “Keep in mind that you have no more than ten seconds for this in a TV interview.” And use examples to illustrate your message. Another tip: sit down with a colleague to think of possible questions and answers to do with your research theme. The logical questions first, but don’t forget the tough ones: Who is actually waiting for this research? Could the results not be misused?
In addition to good preparation, honesty and openness is very important. “Be prepared that journalists want to dig out unpleasant issues. It is useless to try and influence the media by holding back on unsavoury or risky aspects,” they say. If it is comes out, then that will be what “dominates the story about your research”.
Prepare for 15 seconds of fame. Media contacts for researchers by Fred Balvert, Marcel Hulspas and Souad Zgaoui. In English. 14,95 Trichis publisher, Rotterdam