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Preparing for the Press: How to Talk to Reporters

LEGO female scientist

Academics and journalists often have an uneasy relationship. Academics love nuance and writing for experts; journalists tend to value a clear, comprehensible story. And while most academics would be thrilled if more people heard about their work, nobody wants to be at the heart of a political controversy–especially when untenured. (And it’s not just faculty who are unhappy about the press–when I was on the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress, one of the things we learned is that the threat of bad press is a startlingly powerful lever in contract negotiations or governance struggles.)

A few years ago, Brian offered some excellent advice for coping with the press from a faculty point of view, and the AAUP published a good summary from a journalist’s perspective.

Last month, John Oliver poked fun at the especially poor job done in reporting on scientific studies. (Internet tradition demands I tease this video as “JOHN OLIVER DESTROYS THE SCIENCE-REPORTING MEDIA.”) Here’s the segment:

At Tenure, She Wrote, Captain Tenure has a handy post up for ways scientists can talk productively with the press, offering “10 tips on how to foster productive press interactions”. For my money, points 3-5 are key:

  1. Ask for the interview questions in advance.
  2. Anticipate misconceptions.
  3. Write down short sound bites and talking points. Stick to them.

You won’t always get the questions in advance of course–nor will you always get quote approval, which she also (correctly) recommends, but it’s worth an ask. And the whole post is worth reading, ideally *before* you talk to a reporter!

Do you have strategies for working with reporters? Let us know in comments!

Photo “IMG_9425-001″ by Flickr user Oleg Shpyrko / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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