(Keep It Simple and Interesting):
Journalists' Advice to Researchers
FairerScience.org asked print, web, and broadcast journalists what advice they would give to researchers to help them better communicate with the media. This is what they had to say.
Keep It Simple
Your research will be simplified in the story; either you simplify it or the journalist will. Who do you want to simplify the story? One of you will and for your sake and the sake of your research, it had better be you. A good metaphor can help.
Simplification differs based on the publication. The sound bite that you would give to a journalist from the New York Post (or whatever your local tabloid is) should be quite different than one you would give to a journalist from Science magazine. Whatever the sound bite, decide on it in advance, practice saying it and don't let unexpected or uninformed questions take you off message.
Many journalists won't have a lot of background knowledge in your field. Start out at an extremely basic level, with no assumptions about what the journalist already knows. By the questions they ask, journalists will let you know if they already have some background in your area.
Very few of your caveats about your work will be published. Decide in advance the caution you want people to hear and work it into your main message.
Journalists need highlights. Don't get so lost in your data that the journalists can't hear the high points of your results. Decide in advance what you consider the most important points to get across, write them down, and be sure to say them in the interview.
Keep It Interesting
Journalists are storytellers. They need a story to tell. They care about your work, but they also care about the human reaction; about how you felt. Be able to explain why your work is important and why the average reader/listener should care. Any statistics you would like to have included will need to be embedded in their story.
Journalists need quotes from people, not from publications. Most journalists aren't going to be allowed to quote your written work. They need a quote from you, so sending them your publications is not enough. You need to be available to speak with them.
Journalists are interested in broader impacts. If your work is funded by the National Science Foundation, you already have some ideas as to what the broader impact is. Draw on those ideas in your interview.
Different media have different requirements. In print, people read and can read again. In radio, they listen and only listen once. In TV, they listen and view. Your statements need to reflect those different ways of delivering and receiving information. TV likes images; have as many illustrations (pictures, models, real things).
Journalists need quotes from more than one researcher. Have ready and available the names and contact information of other researchers who might be able to add perspective to the story.
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