Yesterday I attended Kom naar Buiten, a day on science communication organised by VLIR-UOS (the department of the Flemish Interuniversity Council, focussed on development cooperation). The day brought together scientists from different disciplines and press officers and science journalists from different media. It was a very interesting day, where I met people from quite different backgrounds and interests in this field.
What everyone seems to agree on though, is that science communication is necessary – certainly more of it is needed! However, what the purpose of it is and how it can be done, is up for discussion.
Here are some practical tips that I picked up across the day
(note: these are tips for going to mass media – but they may be applicable for other target groups/ non-researchers in general):
- Katleen Bracke (VRT) explained what her work looks like. It was quite unexpected to hear that science journalists in the broadcast media (and maybe print media is similar) have less than a minute (45sec to be exact!) to convince their editors of the news value of an item. Keeping that in mind, it is clear that when scientists approach the media with something interesting, they need to be able to explain in one sentence, why the news is important, why its relevant and why we should give our attention to it.
- Hetty Helsmoortel referred to the key concepts of Content (why does it matter?) Clarity (explain it in simple terms) and Charisma (explain it with passion). Her tips: tell a story, do not restrict yourself to your own research and dare to step out of your comfort zone.
- Think of oneliner messages that people should take away from your input (Ann Dooms)
- It is important to think about when you communicate (after publication, but not too often) (Tim Nawrot)
- Convey your passion for the topic (Herwig Leirs)
- It’s ok to be incomplete (in academic terms) – find a balance between giving insight into the research but not going too much in the details.
- Link up with what is in the news and it’s ok to use buzzwords (they draw attention of the science journalist, the deciding editors and the public)
- When writing a press release, add quotes and mimic the writing style of a newspaper article. This increases the likelihood that your text is taken on as is (with minimal editing). (In this way, you can have more control over how your work is presented in the media).
- If the media call you for reactions, it will happen in the first 24 hours after the press release. When they do, be available, be prepared with your message and bring on the enthusiasm.
Some reflections from my side:
Throughout the day I kept thinking of what the value of communicating about your research in the mass media is. I guess it is an issue of what you want to do as an academic and what you want the target audience to take away.
As with the any use of media for communicating, I think it’s important to think about who you are communicating with and what the goal of the communication is. It may therefore be important to identify the target groups and networks of the target groups that you want to reach.
Apart from this, there is a question of the role you want to play in society as an academic. For me that role is one of opinion-making, deepening the content of a discussion, and providing reflection and nuance on your topic. For these issues, I would certainly reach out to the mass media, and I guess this requires a different sort of reputation building as a academic. What I learnt from this event, is that to achieve that goal, you would need to play by the rules of the mass media (including recognising newsworthiness, entertainment-value, etc.), but maintain your quality as a researcher. In fact, I think if you succeed, you would not only make a difference to public opinion, but also, make your research more relevant to societal needs.
And finally, can we hear some more from researchers in the humanities please??? 🙂
(Disclaimer: I did miss the closing session…)
Saving Science by Daniel Sarewitz