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Introduction to the Relationship Between Researchers and Journalists

Release Date: April 3, 2017
Category: Scientific Writing
Author: Erik Faburrieta, Science Editor, The Planet Magazine

Journalists play an important role in disseminating scientific information, often acting as a bridge between the scientific community and the general public. It can be intimidating, and is not always convenient, when a journalist calls or emails asking to interview you for an article that they are writing. It is important to understand that you are being contacted because the journalist believes that you are the expert best suited to assist them.

Typically, a journalist contacts an expert after they have a general understanding of the research and experiments that were conducted. Journalists recognize that information about the topic is available in the publication, but the best interpretations still lie with you, the researcher.

Working with journalists

Journalists work to acquire more information than is needed so that they can publish an article that is well-informed and up-to-date with current findings. Multiple perspectives allow them to create the most well-rounded, all-inclusive articles with the least bias. If a journalist contacts you, it means that your published work is either the story of interest, or that they feel you can provide information/facts to assist with their story. How the journalist is using your published work will determine how much time they would need from you. It is okay to be upfront about how much time you have available for an interview during the initial phases of contact with a journalist.

During interviews, professional reporters are not trying to dictate the direction of the story, they are open to making the interview an actual discussion in hopes that the story will reveal itself. If you are preparing for an interview, the best thing that you can bring to the table is 2-3 analogies for your work. Try to think of something that will allow your interviewer to wrap their head around the size, impact, or timeline of your work. Analogies are often quoted in articles since they provide a unique way to consider the research at hand as well as an insight into the researcher and how they think. It is a good idea to read up on the journalist who will be interviewing you, as you know that they are preparing for the interview by reading up on you. Researching the journalist who has contacted you will provide insight into their writing style, questions they might ask, and may provide insight into whether the journalist has misconceptions of your field that you could correct for them.

If you or your work was misrepresented in an article, it is best to contact the journalist directly and provide clarification. A benefit of digital media is that it can be edited and updated at a moment’s notice. If you find any errors in an article that has already been published, it is crucial that you provide clarification so that misinformation does not become archived. Many news publications have “Contact Us” information on their websites that can be used to send corrections to the publication’s editing team to investigate.

While researchers and journalists are very busy people, both professions rely heavily on accurate information. Therefore, both the scientific community and the journalism community benefit by encouraging conversations over potential corrections.

Taking the initiative

Social media is becoming a popular means of networking on a leisurely level. Reporters constantly use their social media networks to search for leads for their next article. Contact your University’s press/media relations office for assistance spreading information about your research through your institution’s own media outlets. Also, creating a professional social media account that you update and monitor creates an accessible catalog of all of your work.

In response to a survey of science journalists, a quarter of the respondents indicated that they had never received unsolicited contact by a researcher, but they would gladly collaborate with them if the opportunity presented itself. Scientific Journals handle the distribution of their published content. However, if there is a magazine/news outlet that you believe would do a good job of conveying your research, take the initiative and contact them.

Keep in mind

The abstract and introduction are key sections of your manuscripts for journalists because this is where they hope to find a researcher’s thesis and brief conclusions. When writing an abstract, you are strongly encouraged to consider who will be reading this section and the fact that they might not continue past it.

Science journalists with education backgrounds in a field of science are becoming more common. Also growing in popularity are scientists who extend their sphere of influence via different science communication mediums. Sharing a well-written piece of science writing is a simple way to help increase the number of stories that adhere to high ethical standards and thoroughness.

Some examples of popular science journalism organizations are presented below:

Keep in mind that when you are conversing with a journalist, you are also being given the opportunity to speak indirectly to aspiring scientists who are attempting to find their place in the scientific community. Collaborations between scientists and journalists are a great way to disseminate high-quality research content, spread new ideas, and interest a more general audience in scientific content.

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