SOUTHAMPTON, 24th October 2007 – Computer Scientist discovers how to speak to press and avoid a media fiasco!
Joyce Lewis, in association with the Faculty of Engineering, Science and Maths (FESM), took over the brand new lecture theatre in Building 32 to host a Media Training workshop. This wonderful event combined audience-led activities by two experienced academics-turned-journalist-turned-media-trainers (Dr Jon Copley and Dr Claire Ainsworth), a brilliant talk by BBC Online Technology and Science correspondent Jonathon Fildes and advice from PR guru Hélène Murphy.
What I gathered most from the day is that it is important to understand the way journalists work and hence tailor everything you do to help them do their job effectively. In particular, they are under extreme time pressure, so if you can provide them with all the information about your research discovery and supporting materials (interesting pictures or videos), it will make it easier for them to write a compelling story, and hence make it more likely that they will run the story at all!
It was in this sense that Jonathon Fildes’ presentation was most useful: before I saw it, it did not occur to me that he has to arrive at work very early in the morning and write up to 4 full stories before the lunchtime rush, which is when most people read stories on the BBC News website.
Now clearly you can prepare as much of this information as possible, but unless you can convince journalists and news editors that your story is the most interesting, it will never even be considered, let alone written. Hélène Murphy stepped in here, with hints and tips on how to grab a journalist’s attention with a press release.
Importantly, timing is an issue as to be ‘news’, your story must relate to some event. This may be the start of a conference or the publishing of your paper in a journal. Also, if your press release can make a bold claim and link itself to some matter of human interest, then it is more likely to be ‘picked up’.
Jon Copley and Claire Ainsworth sandwiched the other two talks, one of which was a workshop session that involved some audience participation and some group work to help us really understand how hard it is to summarise and describe our work to other people, especially those who are not experts in our field. Finally, they wrapped up the afternoon with a talk about the things that can go wrong with press coverage of academic research, what to do if it happens to you, and how to avoid it in the first place!
All in all, it was an excellently structured and informative afternoon, and as there was room for 3-4 times as many people in what must be one of the biggest lecture theatres on campus, I would highly recommend that my postgraduate and staff colleagues contact Joyce and sign up to attend the next session on 16 January 2008. Some time in the next few months, there is an intensive follow-up session that I will hopefully be attending, so look out for my reflection on that event in early 2008.