Working with the media is increasingly important for today’s scientists. Regardless of our engagement with it, the media wheel keeps turning and remains an extremely effective way to communicate science to a huge audience. By working in partnership with the media, whether to inform or inspire, you have a unique opportunity to raise the profile of your work and institution, and to challenge misrepresentation.
Many still shy away from media collaboration, because of preconceptions and the nature of the industry. The fast turnover and need for a story – as well as absolute answers – don’t always lend themselves well to communicating accurate science. Furthermore, forming an educated statement under pressure can be challenging. However, it is important to appreciate that, despite these factors, the media provide invaluable channels for getting good – and bad – science into the public eye.
By anticipating the needs of journalists, you will be able to work confidently and effectively with the media. Here, our members give you their top tips.
1. TIMING IS EVERYTHING
To the media, a story is a story, no matter who comments on it – and time to comment on breaking news is short.
“Remember journalists work to incredibly tight deadlines, so if you want the voice of endocrinology to be heard, you can’t keep them hanging on.” Richard Quinton
2. PREPARATION IS KEY
With each story, you usually have one opportunity to get your point across. Being well prepared allows you to communicate your message confidently and effectively.
“Consider which one or two key points you wish to get across, and make sure you do!” Ashley Grossman
“Practise! The first interview I did was terrifying but interesting at the same time. I have since been asked back.” Helen Simpson
“Reporters always like to know how many people are affected by the condition you are discussing. Think about this beforehand.” Channa Jayasena
3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Recognising who the story is targeting is key to ensuring you communicate effectively.
“Gauge your response according to the type of medium: a story on a new drug for The Financial Times is not the same as commenting to Grazia…” Ashley Grossman
4. REMEMBER YOU ARE THE EXPERT
Remember that the journalist has contacted you for a reason, so don’t be afraid to offer your expert opinion! It’s better they get a comment from you than from another, less informed source.
“Say yes! Be confident about your knowledge! If we don’t engage with journalists about endocrine news stories, someone else will control the information in the media. If only stories about crushed yams are available to the public regarding HRT, we will only have ourselves to blame.” Helen Simpson
However, remember the reporter is the expert in journalism. They know what will make a compelling story. Your job is to provide the correct scientific information to allow them to do this accurately.
“Remember you are doing a media piece, not writing your own paper. Don’t expect to see an article before it is published. We give the information but are not writing the story. Let the journalists to do that.” Helen Simpson
5. FIND OUT WHAT THE STORY IS
Journalists have a variety of reasons for requesting an expert’s opinion. They often come to you with a good idea of their angle for the piece; it is useful to know this beforehand.
“The media are often helpful but occasionally have an agenda – no matter how experienced you are, this can be difficult to see.” Mark Vanderpump
“…knowing this helps you to understand their line of questioning, and helps you answer the question!” Channa Jayasena
“Check what they really want. If it is to sensationalise a story, or to twist it to make their own point, politely refuse to get involved.” Ashley Grossman
6. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
If your comment gets cut from an article, it’s nothing personal; editors are ruthless and news schedules change.
“If your quote is not used, don’t be offended... The news cycle moves rapidly and is continually changing.” Helen Simpson
“They may spend a day recording for a documentary and then cut it out completely. It happened to a colleague of mine who was participating in ‘The Fantastical World of Hormones’.” Saffron Whitehead
7. STICK TO THE FACTS
Remember the journalists you will talk to don’t usually have a science background. As a science and medical specialist, it is your job to help them understand the research – this is one of your biggest responsibilities!
“There is a lot of misleading information out there, so we have a duty to ensure the correct facts are available.” Mark Vanderpump
“Be honest about how confident you are of your information. If you are asked about a topic where the research hasn’t yet provided a clear answer, say so. Better to be cautious and correct than confident and wrong!” Channa Jayasena
“Be prepared to step back and admit that you don’t have all the answers but offer to go away and find the answers for the interviewer.” Neil Gittoes
“Don’t expect journalists to always do the right thing ... all you can do is to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.” Richard Quinton
8. ASK FOR SUPPORT
Press officers are there to support you, so that you feel confident and comfortable when approached by the media. They can help you look at your work from a wider perspective.
“Don’t go it alone; make sure that the Society for Endocrinology media office is involved.” Richard Quinton
“If you are interested, get some media training. I attended a course run by the Science Media Centre which was great.” Helen Simpson
Communications Intern, Society for Endocrinology
The Society for Endocrinology press office is always available to help and advise you on working with the media. The press officers, Lynsey Forsyth and Aida de Heras, can be reached on +44 (0)1454 642252 or +44 (0)1454 642206, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.