GeoLog

Media

Stop the press!: How to pitch your research to a journalist or editor

Stop the press!: How to pitch your research to a journalist or editor

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

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.

Communication issues

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.

A challenge for scientists, and science journalists, Revkin said, is conveying that, in scientific analysis, bounded uncertainty is a form of knowledge. For more ideas, read a lecture he gave in 2013 in Tokyo: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities in the New Communication Climate.

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

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)

This blog posts based on the presentations by Megan Gannon, Rhian Meara and Andrew Revkin at the ‘Short Course: How to pitch your research to a journalist or editor (SC45)’ which took place at the 2016 EGU General Assembly in Vienna and was moderated by Christina Reed. The full presentations can be accessed here.

My film is ready, now what?

My film is ready, now what?

It’s no secret that at EGU we believe using film as a medium to communicate science and engage the public with research is a great tool! So much so that we organise an annual competition for early career scientists (ECS) to produce a three-minute video to share their research with the general public, as well as publishing film how-to-guides on our blog and organising film-making workshops at our General Assembly (GA).

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.

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.

Tips

  • 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.

Blogs and social media at EGU 2016 – tune in to the conference action

Blogs and social media at EGU 2016 – tune in to the conference action

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.

Blogging

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.

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.

Tweeting

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.

Facebook

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.

And more!

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 their results posted on any social media networks or blogs download this icon and include it in your slides or poster.

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.

You can find out more about our social media guidelines and conference rules of conduct online.

 

 

 

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.

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: