Why does some research make it into the main stream media, while so many stories languish in the expanse between the lab bench and research papers? The answer isn’t straightforward. A variety of factors come into play: is the research newsworthy; is it timely; does it represent a ground-breaking discovery; or is it of human and societal interest?
Newsworthiness isn’t the be all and end all. Sometimes, you’ve got to be proactive about getting your research noticed. If you think your work features a story worth telling, it might be time to dare and pitch it to a journalist or editor.
Most researchers aren’t familiar with how the media works, let alone how to contact and persuade a journalist that their research is worthy of a news item. At this year’s General Assembly we hosted a short course on this very topic. It featured a panel of science journalists and a scientist with media experience who shared their views on what makes research newsworthy and how to get your work noticed. Here, we share a few highlights from that session.
Is my research newsworthy?
While what we said in the introduction stands, i.e. newsworthiness is not the be all and end all, the fact remains: there has to be something about your research which makes it interesting to the general public and worth reporting about for a journalist.
Ground-breaking findings instantly tick the box, but the media will also be interested in results which have a big impact on people’s daily lives, relate to current events and/or include striking images or videos (among others). Scientist-turned-journalist Julia Rosen has a comprehensive list of what does (and doesn’t) make research newsworthy. When trying to decide whether your research fits the bill, you might also find this EGU guide useful.
The process of doing science is often the key to a great story but it is often overlooked.
“Don’t take your methods for granted,” says freelance journalist Megan Gannon, “fieldwork and lab work is inherently fascinating to people who have never done that.”
This GeoLog story, featuring PhD student Thomas Clements and his study of decaying fish guts, livers and gills, to understand how organisms become fossils, is a perfect example. Thomas presented new results at a press conference at the 2016 General Assembly, but his research methodology was just as fascinating as his data and became the focal point of the story.
The impostor syndrome
Even if a scientist knows (or has an inkling that) their work is newsworthy they’ll likely be faced with an age-old fear, rife among academics: am I smart or talented or deserving or experienced (insert an alternative synonym of your choice here) enough to put my work forward to a journalist? Is the work itself good enough?
The fear of being found out: is my work good enough; should I really be putting it out there? Credit: modified from original by Rhian Meara
Rhian Meara, a lecturer in geography and geology at Swansea University, recognises that this is a common feeling that she’s experienced many a times, both on location filming on TV and when asked to take part in the short course, but one which shouldn’t hold you back. As an expert in your area you are best placed to tell the story of your findings and work.
Overcome that fear by playing to your strengths and use them to your advantage. For example, are you fluent in a language other than English? This skill might mean you could become the go-to-scientist for coverage of Earth science related stories in your local area and/or language.
Working with the media
Convinced that your research is newsworthy and armed with the courage to take the next step? Before you do, there are a few, final, things to consider.
When approaching a journalist or editor about your work, “you need to pitch a story, not a topic: give journalists stories and context. Getting news across to readers requires giving it a deeper meaning and setting it in the big picture,” Megan points out.
Simply laying out the facts won’t cut it. You need to make your research come to life so it gets noticed.
There is also a reality you need to reconcile if you are planning on pitching your research to the media. Journalists serve their readers, not the scientists whose story they are telling.
“Even if scientists want to promote their research by reaching out to journalists, they should be aware that our role is not to promote their agenda, but to inform the public in an objective manner,” explains Megan.
But that doesn’t mean they will set-out to misrepresent your work either. Be patient with journalists if they ask questions, sometimes repeatedly, about your research. They may not be familiar with the subject, but importantly, they are trying to capture the essence of the science and make it accessible to a broad audience. To do this, they need to ask questions; sometimes, lots of them.
Precisely because the media needs to serve their readers and viewers, there is no doubt that there might be a clash when it comes to reporting particular findings. Being aware of it is important, but there are ways you can prepare in advance to minimise misunderstandings.
“Be careful of promoting unpublished results,” warns Andrew Revkin, a science and environmental writer for The New York Times (among others).
Your unpublished study has the potential to attract a lot of media attention, but what happens if the paper requires major revision, or worse, isn’t published?
The use of jargon can also lead to misinterpretation – “words that mean something to scientists might mean something entirely different to the public and reporters,” Andrew points out.
The obvious ones, say for instance (climate) model vs. (fashion) model, can usually be easily clarified. It’s the more subtle ones which present the biggest challenge: uncertainty, risk.
Communicating the nuances of what is meant by such terms is difficult; it’s best to consult a media expert for alternatives rather than risk amplifying misunderstanding.
A little help
Still nervous about the process of pitching your research to a journalist or editor?
Rhian Meara during her presentation at the EGU 2016 short course. Credit: Andrew Revkin
Scientists needn’t embark on the venture on their own. In all likelihood your research institute or university will have a press officer: someone who has expertise in dealing with the media, pitching stories to journalists, and knows what makes for newsworthy research. Failing that, approach your funders who will likely have a media relations team.
If you think your research has the potential to be newsworthy, get in touch with them! They’ll be able to help you find out whether indeed your research could interest journalists, and with all the steps we touch upon in this post and more!
More and more, the ability to communicate science is becoming a priority for researchers. If this is the case for you too, but you aren’t sure how to get started, there are a number of resources and courses which can help you develop your media skills. This post, in the blog Geology Jenga, has a list of some courses and resources available.
By Laura Roberts, EGU Communications Officer (with thanks to Megan Gannon, Rhian Meara, Andrew Revkin and Christina Reed)
The film-making workshops of 2014 and 2015 focused on how to make a film: from producing the script right through to aspects of editing and post-production. This year, the workshop was delivered by Stefan Ruissen, an online & cross media specialist, and centred on how scientists can raise the profile of their film work. In today’s post, we highlight some of the main points from the workshop and share Stefan’s slides with you too.
The fact that rich-media and video has grown to form an integral part of conveying a message, be it a news story, a funny meme, or capturing moments of our everyday life should not be underestimated. Harnessing the growing popularity of video when it comes to helping you tell the narrative of your research is crucial!
Video and social media
Social media channels mean that the possibilities to communicate and share the film you invested so much time in creating have multiplied. An important take-home message from the 2014 workshop was knowing your audience: whom are you producing the film for and what message do you want them to take away from it?
Knowing your audience is vitally important when getting your work out there too– where is the most likely place you’ll find your audience: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, via a blog? Spend some time trying to work this out, both in the planning stages of film-making and once your video is ready.
Social media generates opportunities to share your film with a broad audience. Identify which channels are the best ones to reach your audience and tap into your existing networks for maximum impact.
And while social media generates so many opportunities to share your film, how people are consuming content online is also changing. In the past users would actively search for content they wanted to read about or watch; now a day, most content arrives at people’s doorsteps through algorithms curated by social media channels. This means that, not only is it important to get your film ‘out there’, you’ve also got to get it noticed.
So, once you’ve identified the best platforms to use, post the content and don’t forget to engage with your audience! Be sure to start a conversation and be part of it. You will most passionately tell your story, so use every opportunity to drum up further interest in your film.
Get noticed in on-line searches: When planning your film, think carefully about the title and once it is finished, invest time in preparing a description text and key words
Be prepared: Have a set of promotional materials to hand, inc. a film summary, stills from your video and a short trailer
YouTube: simply uploading your video is not enough. Social media 101 says your film should come complete with description, a link to further information/the film page (if available) and don’t forget a catchy preview image to hook viewers
Twitter: exploit your existing network, or spend time building links with relevant peers and organisations who can further your work. The same is true for hashtags – reach a bigger audience by tapping into # and using mentions
Facebook: Combine all your posts with stills or a trailer of your film (that’s where that preparation of promo materials comes in handy!)
Ask your audience: Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, how would you find new science related content? If you aren’t sure, speak to your audience, they’ll likely give you a few pointers!
Making your video isn’t the half of it: while there is no doubt that you should concentrate your efforts on planning, shooting and editing your video, save some energy to develop a strategy which will allow you to disseminate your film work effectively. For more details on how to best achieve this, why not take a look at Stefan’s presentation?
By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer
This blog post is based on the presentation by Stefan Ruissen at the Short Course: Scientists must film! (SC47) which took place at the 2016 EGU General Assembly in Vienna. The full presentation can be accessed here.
A how to guide to help you get started in the world of vlogging. (Credit: Flickr user Isaac)
Ensuring research outputs and findings have an impact in society is becoming an increasingly important part of successfully securing research funding. Perhaps even more importantly, some might argue that it is the responsibility of all geoscientists to communicate their science and research. Whatever your motivations for choosing to engage colleagues and non-scientific audiences with your research, finding the best way to do so can prove tricky.
Vlogging – video blogging – is an alternative to traditional blogging and film-making which is growing increasingly popular. What is vlogging and how do I know if it is right for me, you might ask? Today’s post, brought to you by Simon Clark, (otherwise known as @SimonOxfPhys), an atmospheric sciences PhD student at Exeter University and seasoned YouTube vlogger, is a crash course in how to get started in the world of vlogging.
If Simon’s post inspires you to take up vlogging, but you want to know more, then come along to the short course: The communicating geoscientist (SC44), at the General Assembly in Vienna. Simon is one of the speakers and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about vlogging and to put your questions to him too!
Over the course of my undergraduate degree and PhD I have made literally hundreds of videos across a variety of genres. I’ve come to specialise in making video blogs or vlogs about my life doing a PhD and the subject matter I deal with every day. Over the course of doing this I’ve picked up a variety of skills and techniques that I hope to share with you in this post.
Meet Simon, of SimonOxfPhys fame and author of this guide. (Credit: Simon Clark)
First of all understand something – making good quality videos is hard! And it can all seem overwhelming to first-time vloggers. The expertise in making videos ranges from lighting to sound recording, editing to writing, and networking to data management. And as we only tend to watch accomplished vloggers we only see people who have mastered some, or all, of these skills. Take heart in the fact that a general rule of thumb with video making is this:
Your first fifty videos will suck. They’ll start getting better after that.
That may sound depressing but don’t be disheartened! Even the great legends of the vlogging scene (see the end of the post for some examples) started out with terrible videos, and in many cases those videos are still live on YouTube. Just compare the first and most recently uploaded videos on a channel and you’ll see that almost everyone started at a very low level.
That makes persistence the greatest asset for any aspiring videomaker. Sheer stubbornness and a thick skin will get your videos looking slick in no time. (Well, some time…) Once you accept the fact that your first videos aren’t going to be the next Schindler’s List you remove a certain amount of anxiety, and will find that you have less of a problem getting that first video done. And once that video’s done, the next video becomes much easier, and so on. Don’t compare your beginning to somebody else’s middle.
A video consists of: content, video, audio, an edit, and a release, and the bulk of this post is going to look through this creative process, vaguely in order. Along the way I’ll share some kit recommendations, some suggested viewing, and some things NOT to do!
1. Find your niche
On the internet there is no such thing as too small a niche, and there are a huge number of video creators that specialise in very narrow fields. Decide early on what your creative focus is going to be, and stick to it. A clear mission statement – content, intended audience, intended purpose – will help you decide which videos to make . In my case when I started making vlog content I wanted to:
have my personality present in the video, and make geeky references to music, film, and books
talk about my PhD – both the process of studying and the subject matter
talk about life outside of research such as my singing with the University of Exeter chapel choir
appeal to undergraduates curious about PhD research, school students interested in university life, and anyone with similar interests to myself
educate people about my field, inform them about the life of a PhD student, and do so in an entertaining way
While drawing inspiration from what others have done is to be encouraged, try to define what your unique selling point is. It might be your particular area of research, the location in which you work or…
2. Decide on your presentation style
… your presentation style. The same content can be covered in a huge number of ways. A video explaining a scientific concept can be delivered directly to camera with graphics appearing on-screen, or it could be explained just using your hand on a marker and whiteboard, or it could be explained entirely through animation. Which style you choose to use is entirely up to you, your technical skills, and how confident you feel in appearing on camera. If that’s a concern for you then just look at CGP Grey – an educational channel where the identity of the creator is never on-screen – and has in excess of two million subscribers and 200 million views. Part of the success of that channel is in Grey’s clear artistic choice and his sticking to it for several years.
While consistency has worked for CGP Grey, it may well be that based on feedback from your viewers you change how you make your videos over time. This is of course also fine! The two-way interaction between audience and creator on YouTube is one of the most satisfying parts of the platform, and can provide valuable information on how to improve your content.
3. Getting good sound
I want to make something very clear – good sound > good video.
A lot of people when starting out on YouTube focus on getting the best camera or lens possible, and invest a lot of money in kit that makes them look glamorous. This is the wrong way to go about things! People’s ears are much easier to offend than their eyes, and people will tolerate a video with good sound but shot on a potato far more easily than a video with crisp, beautiful visuals that was recorded via a tin can on a string. If your budget limits you to making a decision between investing in a camera or investing in a microphone, pick the microphone every time. This allows you to adhere to a golden rule of film making – whatever you do, try to avoid using in-built camera microphones}.
I have a few recommendations to make when it comes to microphones. Firstly there are two types that you will want to look into – lavalier or lapel microphones, and shotgun microphones.
Lavalier (lav for short) microphones are very small, allowing you to clip them to your lapel or shirt. This lets you to record very close to your mouth and so delivers a lovely sound if you’re recording vocals, for example speaking to camera.
Shotgun microphones are sadly less exciting than they sound, and simply resemble tubes. The benefit of this design is that they only pick up sound from the direction they are pointing, and so reject sound from other directions. This makes them more versatile than lav microphones, but less specialised to only recording vocals. They are also a bit more expensive.
If you do plan on recording vocals with a shotgun microphone, make sure that you get the microphone as close to you as possible, ideally less than 45 cm away from your mouth. That means not using the shoe mount on top of your camera and either booming it above you or having it on a stand below you just out of frame.
For most people I would recommend lav microphones as the easiest way to get good quality audio at low cost and minimal fuss if you’re not planning on doing anything other than speaking to camera in an otherwise quiet environment. If you plan on doing more than that, or if you don’t want to worry about wires to your lav microphone being in shot (or just getting tangled around you), then it might be worth investigating a shotgun microphone.
To start off with, consider using a lav microphone (l) or a shotgun microphone (r). Credit: Rode Lav Mic by Jim Makos, distributed via Flickr. Shotgun microphone by SkywalkerPL – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
Lastly if your budget allows for it, consider using a portable recorder such as a Tascam DR-05 to plug your microphones into instead of going direct into your camera. This will allow for a higher quality recording, as cameras record at a higher impedance than most microphones which degrades the signal. Also portable recorders generally include a decent set of omni-directional microphones, which are useful if recording a whole room such as a meeting or a performance.
4. Recording your video
So I trashtalked video earlier. That’s not to say that good quality video isn’t important, just that it’s not quite as important as good quality audio.
Some guidelines to follow:
aim for 720p video at minimum, ideally aim for 1080p (the p referring to the number of pixels tall the frame is)
if you’re using a DSLR remember that the camera body is nowhere near as important as the lens you’re using
Most people when starting out will either use a webcam or a compact camera to record their video. These are both absolutely fine choices – I personally use the Canon G7X to record travel vlogs – but remember that if you’re stuck just using your webcam you can always use your phone! Most smartphones these days are capable of recording nicely at full HD, and when combined with audio from a good microphone can give a very professional look. If a film shot entirely on an iPhone can enter the competition at the Cannes film festival then it’s certainly good enough for you! Invest in a decent tripod or gorillapod if you’re using a compact or smartphone camera.
PhotoSEL, by Katie Chan (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.
If you are looking to upgrade the look of your video then before investing in camera kit consider your lighting setup. A well-lit video is a good-looking video, and there are many great lighting tutorials on YouTube. I personally recommend using a pair of Photosel softboxes as an extremely versatile lighting setup for not too much money, though even a single light used in the right way can look fantastic.
If you do want to invest in your camera kit then the quality point above a compact camera or phone is the DSLR, which can range in price from a few hundred pounds to a few thousands, and have the advantage of being able to change lenses which makes them very versatile. This is a huge subject that really deserves an article all of its own but for a start I can recommend the Canon 600D.If you would like to upgrade your look then a very cheap way to do this is to get a 50mm f/1.8 lens which gives you a lovely shallow depth of field, and allows you to shoot in low light levels.
Remember though when looking to improve the quality of your production, the decreasing order of importance goes:
So once you have your video and audio it’s time to chop them up into your finished video. This is often the step that puts off beginners but with a little learning it can actually be the most rewarding part of the process. For most first time film makers the difficulty comes in choosing their editing software. Professional licences cost hundreds of pounds but there are plenty of free or cheap alternatives.
For mac users iMovie is a surprisingly comprehensive editing program that will do almost anything that you will want to as a beginner, and was what I started using. Windows users are advised to stay away from Windows Movie Maker in all but the very simplest of editing tasks – as a program it just doesn’t have the necessary features. Free alternatives to these programs include Lightworks and the surprisingly complex DaVinci Resolve extensive free tutorials for which are available online. If you wanted to spend some money on editing software – which I wouldn’t advise unless you’re planning on doing something very complex – then I personally use Sony Vegas Platinum which gives a huge amount of control comparable to professional programs like Final Cut and Premiere.
Spend some time getting to know your editing software and take baby steps. Once you feel comfortable with basic tasks like trimming clips and matching audio to video then you will find videos almost make themselves. That may sound flippant but with practice you’ll find that while shooting you’re already editing in your head, with the steps of actually editing almost being a formality at the end of the project.
A few tips when editing:
If recording your audio and video separately (such as on your phone or a portable recorder) clap at the start of each file you record. This allows you to easily synchronise your audio and your video, and you can pair the two together such that editing one edits the other (this is why Hollywood uses clapper-boards).
Limit dead noise where you aren’t talking at the end of clips, and particularly at the start of the next clip in your sequence. Realistically you only need one to two frames (timing-dependent) of dead noise at the end of a clip, and none to one frame at the start of the next. Read the waveforms in your audio to do this.
Look into brightness and contrast settings to give your footage some boost, or colour curves if you’re feeling ambitious. A slight increase in contrast can cover up speckly dark areas in poorly-lit video.
Make sure your editing project has the same settings as your input data, in particular the same fps (frames per second). A mismatch of fps between input and output results in a very amateur video
Clapperboard, by KUHT via Wikimedia Commons.Edit in graphics and titles to emphasise points you’re making – you have nearly unlimited power at your fingertips, so use it!
Be careful not to let your video run on longer than it should. Ask yourself if you’d be interested in watching the whole thing and trim it down if that’s not the case.
A general good rule to follow: if in doubt, leave it out.
6. Spreading your message
Once you have your masterpiece it’s time to get it out there into the view of your target audience. I highly recommend uploading to YouTube as it’s simply the dominant video website today. Similar sites such as Vimeo have their own niches but YouTube will allow you to reach the largest audience. That’s not to say that you couldn’t also upload to other sites too, and in particular consider uploading natively to Facebook if you have a public Facebook page. Facebook pushes video in a big way, and so can be a great way to reach a young audience.
Generally speaking you should promote your video on whatever social media accounts you have – it may be worth setting up accounts specifically for outreach work, and where possible use hashtags such as #climatechange or #geologyrocks to help people find your video. Personally I use a public Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and of course my YouTube channel to promote my videos.
A great way to increase your audience is also to collaborate with other creators you work in similar fields. For example, CGP Grey collaborated with another fantastic educational YouTuber, Brady Haran, to make a video on US vs UK numbering systems This boosted both of their creator profiles by moving subscribers from one channel to the other, and started a collaboration that has lasted for years since.
That’s another reason to collaborate with other creators – it’s a lot of fun!
And if you are attending the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, be sure to attend the Scientists must film short course (SC47) where an online & cross media specialist will be sharing tips on how to disseminate their film work effectively.
7. Rogue’s gallery
Here I present a few examples of great work in online film making. Give a few videos a watch and see if you can identify what each channel’s unique selling point or mission statement is.
As referenced several times above, UK-based educator CGP Grey
An interesting vlogging collaboration and one of YouTube’s longest-running communities, the vlogbrothers (also check out their affiliated channels)
One of the vlogbrothers’ offshoot channels, SciShow is actually a collection of educational channels based in Montana:
For an example of a more traditional vlogging channel, Jake Wright vlogged his daily life at Cambridge University and more recently in graduate employment
Lastly for an example of informative content conveyed in a personal way, Thomas Frank’s channel about college study in the US, College Info Geek
I hope this post has been interesting, as it was certainly interesting for me to try and condense several years of experience into one post! If you have any further questions I am more than happy to answer them – on twitter I am @simonoxfphys.
By Simon Clark, atmospheric sciences PhD student at Exeter University and YouTube vlogger
If Simon’s post inspires you to take up vlogging, but you want to know more, then come along to the short course: The communicating geoscientist (SC44), at the General Assembly in Vienna. Simon is one of the speakers and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about vlogging and to put your questions to him too! The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 17 to 22 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.
With hundreds of oral presentations, PICO sessions and poster presentations taking place each day, it can be difficult to keep abreast of everything that is on offer during the General Assembly.
As well as finding highlights of interesting conference papers, lectures and workshops in the daily newsletter at the General Assembly, EGU Today, you can also keep up to date with all the conference activities online.
GeoLog will be updated regularly throughout the General Assembly, highlighting some of the meeting’s most interesting sessions, workshops and lectures, as well as featuring interviews with scientists attending the Assembly.
For the first time, the EGU Division Blogs will have a team of student reporters who will write about interesting research and sessions during the Assembly, so you can catch up on any sessions you’ve missed and get a feel for what’s going on in the press room through them!
The view from social media HQ at EGU 2012.
Stay tuned to the EGU Blog Network for further coverage of science presented at the conference.
As in previous years, the EGU will be compiling a list of General Assembly related blogs (the blogroll) and making them available through GeoLog. You can add your blog to the blogroll here.
Participants can keep updated with General Assembly goings on by following the EGU twitter account (@EuroGeosciences) and the conference hashtag (#EGU16). You can also direct questions to the EGU communications staff and other participants using #EGU16, or by tweeting to @EuroGeosciences directly. If you’ve got the Assembly app, you can share snippets of great sessions straight from there!
This year, each of the programme groups also has its own hashtag. If you’re in a Geomorphology (GM) session, say GM2.1, you can tweet about it using #EGU16GM, or if you’re in one of the Outreach, education and media (OEM) sessions, use #EGU16OEM – just add the acronym of the respective programme group to #EGU16! ! A full list of conference hashtags is available here, and in the programme book. Conveners are welcome to add their own hashtags into the mix too! Just let everyone know at the start of the session.
The EGU communications staff will be advertising General Assembly sessions and will post about research being presented at the Assembly on Facebook. Just type European Geosciences Union into the Facebook search bar to find the EGU official page, and like it to receive the updates.
While these will be the main media streams during the Assembly, you can also search for European Geosciences Union on Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube to keep up with us there!
Social media guidelines
So that conference participants can embrace social media while at the same time remaining respectful of presenting authors’ work and protecting their research output, we’ve put together some social media guidelines, which you can find on the EGU 2016 website.
If you do not want your results posted on any social media networks or blogs download this icon and include it in your slides or poster.
The EGU encourages open discussion on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and blogging platforms during the General Assembly. The default assumption is to allow open discussion of General Assembly oral, PICO, and poster presentations on social media. However, please respect any request from an author to not disseminate the contents of their presentation.
The following icon may be downloaded from the EGU General Assembly website for inclusion on slides or posters to clearly express when an author does not want their results posted on any social media networks or blogs.