21, March, 2015

Why should I talk to you? Journalists help academics understand news media. Highlights from EMC event

The Education Media Centre held its first Understanding the News Media event with Durham University to give education researchers and press officers an expert insight into working with journalists. It was an opportunity for academics to learn more about what journalists need from academics and how and why researchers might want to see their research findings in the news.

The panel included Richard Garner, Education Editor of The Independent; Sophie Scott, senior reporter for Schools Week; Professor Robert Coe, Durham University, School of Education; and Dionne Hamil, press officer Durham University.

Richard Garner, an education correspondent for more than thirty years, described the pressures of modern journalism. With newspapers now online as well as in print, the quick turn around of material is necessary. He looks for short tailor-made comments from academics for the pieces he writes.

Richard Garner audio: 

For a journalist to read a research synopsis or press release it needs to be clear and concise. “My eye needs to be grabbed by the press release,” Richard advised academics when sending him research reports. More in-depth analysis of education issues will give greater opportunities for academics and more researchers should get in touch with the media.

Robert Coe, Professor of Education at Durham University, frequently has a story to tell. He commented on the benefits of engaging with the media as a good way of getting your research message across. But the media is not an end in itself.

Professor Coe understands what all journalists like – a good hook or peg to get for a story. Readers are interested in stories which are surprising or have a controversial edge, but not every bit of research grabs the headlines.

There are advantages for academics in getting their message across via the media. Rob Coe understands how policy makers are influenced by stories in the media which can help raise an academics profile. It is a very different means of having impact compared to the Research Excellence Framework.

Professor Rob Coe audio: 

But there are risks – it can take time to write something or do an interview for a broadcaster; expect to be challenged, if you want to engage with a journalist don’t get drawn beyond the evidence you know. “Journalists need you, more then you need them,” Professor Coe said.

Research needs to be eye catching for a journalist to use it. They do not refer to it as a qualitative or quantitative piece of research. Journalists avoid using too many statistics in their reports. The media caters for a mass audience which is very different to how an academic would read something in a journal.

University press officers can help get academic research into the media with clear and transparent press releases. Journalists will respond to a catchy headline in their inbox. Dionne Hamil is the press officer at Durham University. She gave three top tips to academics:

  • Let the press officer know about your research. The press office can read it and assess the news value. They can also help facilitate case studies, something which all journalists love to feature. But not every research paper will grab the headlines, so don’t be offended.
  • Be aware of what is happening in your field of research. Tell the press office if you spot a story and can provide a comment or reaction. Do say when you are available – broadcasters, especially, will ask for a specific time to be interviewed which might be for a live programme. If there is a government announcement on a certain issue you can comment on, let the press office know as early as possible so that it can be sent out to journalists.
  • Talk to your press office. Find out how they work and work with them to publicise your research.

With the increase in social media, any one can say what they want online via sites such as Twitter. The warning is not to say any thing you wouldn’t otherwise say to someone in person.

Sophie Scott, senior reporter with Schools Week, knows how fast stories move. She recommended to academics to follow journalists on Twitter, particularly if they are writing a story which relates to their area of expertise. Twitter is a good source for finding people and things out, sharing ideas and a means of reaching people. Journalists use it as an excellent way of getting in touch with someone for an interview.

Sophie Scott audio: 

Blogs are also a good way of getting the research message across. Schools Week will quote and link to a blog where they feel it adds further information to a story. If you do engage with social media, be it via a blog or tweet, the same warnings apply – think about what you write.

The Education Media Centre can help the flow of research into the media. By doing so, it can have an impact with policy makers, parents and the public. The EMC can help capture a wider audience which might not have known of the existence of a particular piece of research. It is all about having impact and getting the evidence out there.

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