What scientists need to know about communicating with journalists
Posted on October 14, 2015
Several colleagues have drawn my attention to a blog by Pete Warden on how scientists should talk to journalists (http://petewarden.com/2015/09/27/how-to-talk-to-journalists/). Having had the experience on many occasions, and having worked out my own set of rules, I was all prepared to do some nit-picking, but Pete has it dead right, and any scientist involved in communicating with the press would do well to read his blog first.
There is just one thing that I would add (or, at least, emphasize). Have short quotes ready that you would like to see in the story, and keep feeding them into the conversation. The corollary to this (also emphasized by Pete) is DON’T expect the journalist to paraphrase a long rigmarole. Do it yourself, polish it, write it down, and have the note in front of you when you talk.
This is what I did when the story of my IgNobel Prize broke. The Reuter’s journalist was first off the mark, and I kept feeding in the two phrases “It’s scientists pulling each other’s legs” and “my idea was to help people understand science by showing how a scientist might think about an everyday problem [how best to dunk a biscuit]”. This got the journo onside and eager to help with my crusade to make science more accessible and appear more human. It also deflected a tendency that has permeated stories about other IgNobels, which is for journalists to jump on the bandwagon and start poking fun at the recipients. Other journalists picked up on the same phrases, and I got a great ride.
The experience also helped when I got to working out how scientists can communicate with politicians (http://lenfisherscience.com/what-scientists-need-to-know-about-talking-to-politicians/) where the rules turned out to be rather similar, albeit with some interesting twists.