Science and the Media – dos and don’ts

Have you ever wondered how the media can write (often cringingly inaccurately) about a paper in a scientific journal, which is published on the same day? After attending Standing up for Science media workshop organised by the Sense about Science charity I know how.

Apparently, there are times when the media are hungry for any news, mostly during a summer. We have all seen “a funny shaped vegetable” and “dog running after deers” stories in national newspapers and on television. So if you want to get a story about your work out there, you can, just be ready to any outcome – from it sinking without a trace (not the worst case scenario) to a sudden media frenzy and misinterpretation.

On the basis of things I learned during the workshop, I compiled a list of tips for dealing with science communication.

Think globally, do locally

Do tweet and blog  about science, this gives you an exposure to a wider world and experience in communicating science. You University or Faculty may also have a blog or a list of students and staff blogs, you can start there.

Do put your story into human context. For example, start a story about a new sewage treatment method you developed from stating how many people die from drinking dirty water.

Do talk to your boss about your intention to publicise your story. They are usually busy people, all too happy to leave a required but rarely liked part of their job, science communication, to other people. However, they may see a bigger picture or a flaw with your results interpretation.

Don’t leave your supervisor to discover you media contacts while watching BBC Breakfast.

Do contact local media, they are even more desperate for news and interesting stories are often picked up by the national media.

Going national

Do talk to your University press-officer. They are usually journalists by training, so they know how to sell the story and  press, who suddenly need an expert opinion, contacts them – you can be this expert.

Don’t allow to make grand conclusions from your data. If you see an increase in your mouse model survival after treating it with a drug, don’t allow to say that this is a “miracle cure”.

Don’t leave the final press-release completely in the press-officer hands, it may backfire. Press-releases are going to special search engines, such as the European AlphaGalileo, where you can put “an embargo” (it will not be published until a certain date), but not much else.

Rules of the game

Remember, science and media work using opposing principles, something like marathon running and show jumping. Science requires planning, preparation, careful data accumulation and their analysis. Media work on tight deadlines and sudden changes of heart and weather. Your story can be dropped in the literally 11th hour, then picked up by 4 pm, then dropped again.

Do be ready to be contacted either before 10 am, when the journalists are submitting their stories to the editors or, if you story went national, at any other time. It’d very important to available

Don’t go on holidays after the embargo deadline, you’ll be unable to answer any questions and correct any mistakes.

Don’t be upset if something goes wrong – the media have very short attention span, all will be forgotten very soon.

What are your tips about science communication?