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Tips & Tools
A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media
Practical advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists


  
   
    
     
      
     
  

“This book is essential medicine for the pandemic
of scientific illiteracy. The architects of the explosive growth of science-based technology must communicate as never before and there is now a lucid guide.”

—Leon Lederman, 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics



“This is an invaluable guide for scientists seeking
to learn how to better communicate with—and
through—the media. The book gives the kind of
insight into news operations that will allow researchers
to better understand the process and to feel more comfortable talking with reporters. And the timing 
is just right—now more than ever we need an 
improved public understanding of science 
and the way it affects our lives.”

—Deborah Blum, 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner for beat
reporting on primate research


Book Description
Order the Book
Table of Contents
Excerpts


Book Description

Research in most scientific disciplines calls for painstaking accuracy and a hesitation to generalize for fear of distorting the truth. Given this penchant for nuance, scientists often feel uneasy about a relationship with anyone in the media who is seeking an eye-catching lead, usually with limited space to express subtleties. Researchers who give interviews often feel that their findings are distorted or sensationalized, and shun future media contact. By avoiding potential misrepresentations, however, scientists also sacrifice opportunities to educate the public on important issues related to health, the environment, outer space, and much more.

In A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media, Richard Hayes and Daniel Grossman draw on their expertise in public relations and journalism to empower researchers in a variety of fields to spread their message on their own terms. The authors provide tips on how to translate abstract concepts into concrete metaphors, craft sound bites, and prepare for interviews. For those looking for a higher profile, the authors explain how to become a reporter’s trusted source—the first card in the Rolodex—on controversial issues.

A must-read for all scientists, this book shows how it is possible for the discoveries that hibernate in lecture halls and academic journals to reach a broader audience in a way that is accurate and effective.


About the Authors:

Richard Hayes
is media director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, where for more than a dozen years, he has helped scientists across the country become more effective with the press. Hayes was previously a reporter for a bipartisan caucus in the U.S. Congress, where he also coordinated a task force on climate science. He lives in Arlington, VA.

Daniel Grossman is an award-winning science journalist and former reporter for National Public Radio's show on the environment, Living on Earth. He has written for publications such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Scientific American. He has also taught science journalism at the Boston University School of Journalism. He lives in Watertown, MA. 


Order the Book

A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media
is available for $18.95; UCS members receive a 20% discount. Order the book online.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: We Need to Talk    
Chapter 2: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst 
Chapter 3: Why Reporters Do What They Do  
Chapter 4: Do You Hear What You’re Saying?  
Chapter 5: Mastering the Interview   
Chapter 6: A Reporter’s Most Trusted Source: You 
Chapter 7: Choosing the Right Communication Tools 
Chapter 8: The Scientist as Celebrity and Activist 


Excerpts from A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media

Excerpt from Chapter 4:
Do You Hear What You’re Saying?


If reporters don’t understand what a scientist is saying, how can they translate it for their audience? Or, put another way, if scientists aren’t clear and concise, how can they expect busy reporters to get the story right?

Here’s the good news: you can do something about it. There are several considerations scientists need to take into account during their interactions with the press, but one stands out: you must prepare clear and concise messages to express the facts or views you want to get across. John Funk, a reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, urges scientists to “break down the information, using analogy if necessary, to help me understand what it is they are doing.” This is not something you can do on the fly once you’re already on the phone with a reporter. You have to do it before you sit down for an interview or write a press release.

In the political arena, we often hear “messages” compared with “spin”—the purposeful shaping of information to obscure or deceive. That is not what we’re talking about here. “Messages” in this context are just a way to focus what you want to say in a way that the reporter’s audience will understand and remember.

Think about it this way: if reporters don’t have to decipher what you say, or guess what your point is, they are much less likely to misquote you or inaccurately describe your research or positions. . . .

If you develop focused messages that are interesting and understandable in advance, you’ll have greater control over the information the reporter uses, and you will be less likely to see your name attached to something you either didn’t mean to say, wasn’t relevant, or was misconstrued. No longer will you be on the defensive, answering every question that comes your way as if you’re on the receiving end of a Serena Williams serve. Instead, you’ll be steering the reporter to the story you want the public to read or hear. This is not about spinning a reporter or hiding inconvenient facts. This is about communicating your views or research in a form that ensures the final story is both accurate and compelling.


Excerpt from Chapter 7:
Choosing the Right Communication Tools


Now that you know how to talk about your research or views, you need to figure out the best vehicle for getting your message out to the public. There are many different ways to communicate with the press . . . We refer to these communication techniques as “tools,” and which tool you choose depends on a variety of factors, including your message, your target audience, and your budget.

In our conversations with scientists, we’ve learned that too many of you rely on only one mode of communication with reporters. Some only communicate through press releases that their media relations office generates, while others only feel comfortable writing letters to the editor or op-eds. Many more just wait until reporters call them. While that is certainly a start, if you are going to reach the largest audience possible, you need to use all the communication tools at your disposal (or at least more than one or two). In this chapter, we discuss these tools in detail and explain how you can put them to work to effectively communicate your messages.

The chapter contains instructions for making effective:

      º Calls
      º E-mails
      º Visuals
      º Op-eds
      º Press kits
      º Press releases
      º Press statements
      º Radio interviews
      º Press conferences
      º Letters to the editor
      º Cultivation meetings
      º Video news releases
      º Editorial board meetings
      º Satellite television tours
      º Telephone press conferences

 

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