JAM Redux: Talking with the media about your research

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgBlog friend Pat Campbell and her colleagues Susan Metz, and Jennifer Weisman gave a great talk at JAM on getting your research message out to the press.

Key ideas, themselves tailored to this audience:

  • MEDIA SURPRISE: don't agree to an on the spot interview; research the journalist first. What part of the newspaper are they writing for? Who are they writing for? What is the angle? What is the deadline? Who else are they interviewing? Get background material on the journalist and have it written down.
  • HAVE A MESSAGE and tailor it to your audience. Your results are going to be simplified anyway -- who do you want to simplify them, the journalist or you? A description of your project is not your message; your message is what you want the people reading/listening to take away. HAVE YOUR MESSAGE WRITTEN DOWN. Remember to tailor your message to your audience -- Washington Post cares about context, but USA Today likes graphics. And you don't have to actually say your message -- you can point to it with your other remarks.
  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE. Are you talking about stereotyping, or being a feminist? (This blog would surely fail.) These are "flash points" that raise the ire (one way or another) of your audience. Reporters will hook you into one side or another, because conflict sells. Then they will set you up with a "contrast" to "balance" the story. As Pat said, "This may be unhelpful!" Instead, take the hook away from the journalist by being careful about your language.
  • ANSWER THE QUESTION YOU WANT TO ANSWER, not necessarily the one you were asked. "Didn't study, so I'm not going to comment, but it would be an interesting study to do."

Other tips from the audience included:

  • "I'm not the right person to answer this question, let me point you to..."
  • Develop 10 soundbites related to your project, and have them written down when the journalist calls back.
  • Beware the use of stockphotos with your story, and beware requests for photos. What will the photo be used for? Will the photographer get credit?

Then the audience was asked to participate. We were supposed to come up with a good response to the question: "I understand that the goal of your project is to increase the number of women in science and engineering; why is this important?" Here are some of the audience's answers (forgive me if I state them slightly incorrectly!):

  • To fill a workforce shortage
  • If we didn't have women engineers, we wouldn't have airbags (or other women-designed objects of similar scale).
  • To have our nation be competative globally
  • Better solutions for tomorrow's problems through diverse thinking
  • A diverse workforce leads innovation and competativeness in a global market
  • Mixed gender teams make better products.
  • Because we have a lot of problems, we can't rely on only half of the collective brain.
  • Better solutions need more people to produce the solutions.
  • China and India have more women in STEM fields!
  • Following Myra Sadker, "If the cure for cancer was in the mind of a girl, we would miss it." Sadker died of breast cancer.

I think that was most of them. It was a great session, and I learned a lot -- mainly that I'm going to have to practice at this.

Pat is going to reprise this performance with a modified cast at WEPAN on June 18 (Thurs) at 11:15, do check it out if you'll be there. Thanks, Pat, Susan and Jennifer for the good messaging at JAM!

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Alice, thanks for the shout out. It was a really fun session, mostly I think because of the energy and participation of all involved. The next morning two of the participants and I ended up doing an interview with a reporter. Watching them put the lessons in action was really interesting. Based on being a part of that I have two other lessons.

1. Make your message/soundbites SHORT and I mean SHORT; that would be SHORT as in one sentence.

2. If you have a program/project be prepared to answer the question "What effect has your program had on students?" I (almost) don't care what your answer is but have an answer and no it shouldn't start with "well that's hard"

Thanks for sharing on this important topic. I am, however, disappointed and unsurprised that the rationales for increasing women's participation in STEM focused primarily on capitalistic goals - the nation needs to be competitive and we wouldn't have such and such products/innovations/solutions. Is there no media-appropriate response to this question that speaks to social equity or how participation in STEM might benefit women?