A personal perspective from Samantha Winkler…

On Friday 14 March, I had the pleasure of attending a Media Workshop for young researchers run by Voice of Young Science (part of Sense about Science). There’s a summary of the day on their website but here I provide my own brief summary before launching into a few posts about the topics discussed.

The day was divided into three main parts: a panel session with scientists, a panel session with journalists and a tips & tricks discussion session. These were interspersed with group work (which I wasn’t took keen on – I don’t think the venue was suited for it and the questions too simplistic).

Anyway. Scientists.

On the panel were the ever awesome Matthew Cobb (@matthewcobb), Susanne Shultz (@Susanne_Shultz) and Jeffrey Forshaw (@jrf1968). As I have done my undergraduate and Masters degree(s) here in Manchester, I was familiar with Matthew Cobb who is one of the most dynamic and interesting lecturers I’ve ever had. If you ever have the chance to hear him lecture on biodiversity, don’t miss it!

Instead of taking notes, I was tweeting fairly heavily during this session, probably fuelled by the copious amounts of coffee provided at the workshop. So check out my tweets tagged #VoYSmediaworkshop for that!

The panelists all introduced themselves with little anecdotes that would come to form the main themes of the discussions. Jeff Forshaw who has worked with Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) told of a time when he and Brian Cox gave a talk they hadn’t prepared for – despite that their obvious familiarity with the subject matter and a few key points they knew they wanted to mention got them through.

Don’t over prepare, talk about things you’re confident in and know a few key messages. Then you can connect the dots.

Susanne Shultz spoke about a few experiences with the media and where things had gone wrong.

When things go wrong, tell the media about it. Especially with online media, it’s easy for them to correct it so it’s worth telling them about problems. And always make sure to mention and credit your team.

Matthew Cobb spoke of various interactions he has had with the media, including a story of “a duck who thought it was a dog” (of course, it probably din’t really think that!).

Don’t be afraid to say no if the request is silly. It’s not worth your time. Especially broadcast media will take up a lot of your time so make sure you get something out of it (guaranteed airtime/money).

Despite briefly derailing into a discussion of atheism (conclusion: don’t be a militant atheist), the discussions focused about when and when not to interact with the media: while you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to them and reach out to get your research presented accurately, you can also say know when they start coming up with silly requests. And always talk about what you know best.

I tweeted less during the discussion with journalists, probably stuck in a lazy, content post-lunch daze. However, I found the discussion with journalists to be a little more controversial in some matters. Panelists were Victoria Gill (@Vic_Gill) from BBC and freelancing journalist David Derbyshire (@dderbyshire) who used to work for the Daily Mail. They did an excellent job of explaining how journalists work.

Victoria Gill spoke about a (maybe not so) typical “day in the life” when she was working on a story about elephants and voice recognition (BBC article here). This focused on the benefits of having good contacts with scientists, working quickly and getting a story into their internal BBC database where it can then be picked up by different BBC outlets.

David Derbyshire spoke about how despite the majority of the room leaning towards The Guardian (as proven by a show of hands), the Daily Mail has a huge readership and those readers are keen to know about science. While competition between science stories and other stories is huge, science stories do regularly feature and it is necessary to work together with the journalists to ensure they are as accurate as possible. The Daily Mail might not have the best reputation amongst scientists but it has the relevant readership so don’t decline working with them on getting your research publicised.

In the discussions, the two topics I most noticed were “the ivory tower” and “when should we start teaching outreach/science communication/media relations to students”. As I disagreed with some of the opinions thrown around the room I will be blogging about those separately (beat me with a large stick if I fail to do so!).

The tips and tricks session was also a very useful discussion of personal experiences and suggestions, as well as a great overview of what Sense about Science and Voice of Young Science do.

Overall, it was a great day that felt very inspiring. (As you can see, it inspired me to finally blog again, so that’s a start.)

Other participants have blogged about the workshop here and here.

This post is republished with permission.

Author: Samantha Winkler (@SamW812)
Source Acknowledgement: http://sciencemediasociety.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/voice-of-young-science-media-workshop/