On Friday, the Guardian held a live chat Q&A to discuss how academics can help journalists report science accurately. The challenge is huge. From the article:
Academics have never been under more pressure to engage with the public and show the impact of their work. But there’s a problem. The media, one of the key channels for communicating with people outside academia, has a reputation for skewing or clumsily confusing scientific reports…
But it’s not just journalists who are at fault – as the Cardiff researchers later found out. Their experience of misreporting prompted them to embark on a project investigating where such inaccuracies and exaggeration typically originate. They found that most inflation and distortion in media reports of biomedical and health-related science began in press releases produced by academics and their universities.
If we can’t even get our press releases right, what hope does the average journalist have? But chat participants came up with great advice on how academics can help ensure that non-scientists accurately understand and communicate their work. A sampling:
1. The news cycle. We rarely have time to do more than write about the newest, most sexiest and most novel sounding study. Sometimes employers pressurise journalists to write copy without even getting quotes from study authors.
2. The combative research environment – every PR and scicomms person is trying to attract any press interest they can to promote their brand of science
3. Few professional science journalists, few outlets to write about much science and low pay
I think it is important that academics or press officers keep on to the message and not to exaggerate, use clear unambiguous description of the work to prevent common mistakes that might crop up in the reporting process.
Academics have to be extremely involved in the press release writing process – it should be a partnership between them and the press office who are communicating their work. It’s the role of a responsible press office to manage the balance ensuring that a release is clearly written, newsworthy but not hyped. No press officer wants to be accused of hype!
Whenever a press release goes out with an academic’s name on it, it’s in their interests for them to also ensure its accuracy – so working collaboratively is the only way to achieve this.
In today’s world, universities should be communicating their research directly, via their website, to a self-selecting group of interested parties among the general population who will then disseminate that content via social media to other interested parties.
Read more via The Guardian: Live Q&A: How can academics help science reporters get their facts straight?
About AlisaI'm a writer, blogger and social media specialist with nearly 15 years experience in medical and science writing for organizations that include Caltech and UCLA, as well as non-profit fundraising and political organizing. I specialize in making complex information clear and compelling. Learn more about my work here