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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.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Get involved!

Imaggeo on Mondays: Get involved!

Today’s featured image is a throw back to our 2016 General Assembly! Did you enjoy this year’s 619 unique scientific sessions and 321 side events at conference? Did you know that EGU members and conference attendees can play an active role in shaping the scientific programme of the conference? It is super easy! You can suggest a session (with conveners and description), and/or modifications to the existing skeleton programme sessions. So, if you’ve got a great idea for a session for the 2017 conference, be it oral, poster or PICO, be sure to submit it before this Friday, 9th September!

But helping us prepare the next General Assembly is not the only way you can have a say in EGU activities over the coming weeks. The EGU’s Autumn Elections are coming up too and we need your help to identify suitable candidates for vacancies as Division Presidents and Treasurer. Until the 15th of September you can nominate candidates for the positions. Think you’ve got it takes to have a go at the role? Then you are also welcome to nominate yourself!

Finally, did you know that as part of its ‘science for policy’ programme, the EGU is creating a database to identify expertise within the Union that can be used in policy-related events of geoscientific relevance, for example, submitting response texts to the European Parliament’s calls for expert advice? Please register if you have an interest in policy and want to participate more in the science policy process. By registering for this database you may be emailed from time to time with requests to respond to specific events.

For other EGU related news, why not visit our news pages, or catch up on the latest via our monthly newsletter (which you can receive direct to your inbox, simply sig up!)?

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

 

GeoTalk: REcycle textile posters into useful products

GeoTalk: REcycle textile posters into useful products

Conference posters: Most scientists spend tens (if not hundreds) of working hours perfecting their conference poster. There’s not just the science to think about, but also the design, the flow, the images, the language… The list is endless. Once complete, you print it, roll it up and feed it into the protective poster tube. Then you travel to the conference venue, whereupon you ‘compete’ with other scientist trying to stand-out from the crowd and entice fellow attendees to stop by your presentation, if only for a few minutes.

And then it is over, almost as quickly as it started. You pack up your poster to take back to your institution, to languish amongst the pile of other posters in a corner of your office. Best case scenario, you’ll revisit the electronic version when presenting on the same subject again and rework some elements. In all likelihood, the few hours of glory in the poster hall will be the climax of hours of hard work!

What if you could breathe a longer life into your poster? One which would mean you’ll reach audiences you never expected, while transforming your work into a brand new, useful product?

Today we speak to Sandra de Vries, a former master student, who also crafts posters into wearable garments, breathing a new lease of life into your scientific findings.

It all starts with a textile poster – where your presentation is printed on fabric as opposed to paper – which Sandra then turns into anything from a tie, to a tote bag, through to a skirt! The designs come complete with QR Codes, which people can scan to access the original presentation.

First, could you introduce yourself and tell our readers a little more about your background.

Hi, everybody! As a water ambassador during my studies, and currently working as project developer for the Valorisation Program Deltatechnology and Water, my interest for the water sector has been growing for a couple of years now. That brought me to my new job, where I just started working as IHP-HWRP Committee Secretary.

I take special interest in supporting and increasing innovative solutions in the water sector and creating awareness for the importance of water (on a national as well as international level) for which I helped set up the initiative Team Helder Water. I like to tackle challenges by being creative and enthusiastic about the solutions possible.

During my Water Management master at the Delft University of Technology I conducted research in the Mara River Basin – Kenia, Jakarta – Indonesia, and Ostional – Nicaragua. I conducted this research in cooperation with UNESCO-IHE, Deltares, and the research institute CIRA in Managua – Nicaragua, respectively. Living, travelling, and working abroad has created an interest of discovering other cultures and working together with them on challenging and global issues.

Repost is your initiative to turn textile posters into useable items. How did you come up with this original idea?

What if your poster could become a handy tote bag? Credit: REpost/Sandra de Vries

What if your poster could become a handy tote bag? Credit: REpost/Sandra de Vries

It actually all comes back to my time as an EGU conference assistant, during EGU2014 and 2015. For my work in the poster areas we were asked to remove all left-behind posters every evening. These are quite a few, and surprisingly, some posters turned out to be printed on textile instead of paper. After the first evening of throwing away perfectly nice posters that were only used for two effective hours, I discussed with a friend the waste of material, time, but especially effort. As I had been designing and making  clothes of my own for a couple of years, I started joking about keeping some of the textile versions. “I could make a dress out of it and perhaps a beach bag for you!”, I exclaimed to my friend. So at the end of the next day, instead of throwing away the textile posters, I started collecting them. Beautiful pieces of research, all of them!

In the year after EGU2014 I did what I promised my friend, and chose two posters to become a beach bag and a dress. Again, in 2015 I joined as an assistant, and this time it was even better, I was working at the hydrology poster area. This gave me an even better possibility to collect textile posters, which often showed topics of my own interest! And during the Delft hydrology dinner in Vienna (every year organised by the division), I wore the dress made out of a poster from EGU2014. This resulted in really enthusiastic reactions, which only increased my own enthusiasm for the idea. After EGU2015 I created a couple of aprons which were used during the hydrology fieldwork of my master, and a pencil skirt for my own thesis defence. Of course with all topics matching that of my own thesis. And finally, I created the tie, a present for my supervisor Prof. Hubert Savenije.

Is the process of turning the posters into clothing items difficult? What does the process involve?

As you might imagine, posters are printed on a textile that is best compared to canvas. This is pretty stiff fabric, and for sure not everything can be made out of it. The first dress I made is actually the best example for this. I was not incredibly satisfied because the inflexible fabric did not allow for a nice fit. I also broke many a needle in my sewing machine, since the fabric is often thicker than normal fabric. So the product-possibilities depend on the type of fabric, and the thickness of the textile posters have thus far influenced my product choices.

The next step is like designing any other piece of clothes or accessories. You need to design a 2D-pattern that shows you which pieces of fabric you need to create a 3D product. In case of clothing, which naturally should also fit a person, one needs to take into account different clothing sizes.

You include QR codes in all the items you make, why is it such a unique feature?

The extra highlight of our product, especially interesting for researchers, is indeed the QR-code attached to the product. This QR-code redirects to the original poster of the author. Imagine the extra publicity you can create for your work in this manner!

Cutting up the poster in order to REmake it, can create a loss of the information contained in the poster. By including the QR-code we ensure to REpost the work to anybody who might be interested by what is shown on the clothing or accessories.

Which items have you enjoyed creating the most and why?

I still remember the first time people saw the beach bag I made for my friend. Everybody was enthusiastic, envying her for her new bag. This was very surprising for me, I had not expected that others would like the idea as much as I enjoyed it.

Sandra models her pencil skirt. Credit: REpost/ Sandra de Vries

Sandra models her pencil skirt. Credit: REpost/ Sandra de Vries

I am most proud of the pencil skirt I made. When I started creating it, I was not even sure if it would work out, and I wanted it to be perfect to use it for my own thesis defence. Eventually, it turned out to be great, and so original that I was asked by people where I bought it!

What next for REpost? Do you plan on pursuing this as a business where anyone can purchase items you’ve made?

Yes, definitely! It started out as a nice fun hobby and project. Now, after having talked to many people, I believe this has more potential than just keeping it for myself. Together with my sister Maria, we are finding ways to increase production, incorporate the QR-code and bring this to a higher level. To make it easier for you in the future, we’re actually in contact with conference organizers  to incorporate this choice into the digital registration procedure.

If this sounds interesting to you as a poster-author and you’re planning to print on textile, contact us via our email address repost.poster@gmail.com or check our facebook page repost poster!

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.

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