Communicating with the Media
Contributing to the news is a crucial means of affecting public policy and getting traction on an issue. However, scientific research and media work aren’t always a perfect fit. The speed of the media world, and the small amount of space journalists have to cover complex scientific issues, can make the interaction between scientists and the press challenging. Yet scientific expertise has never been in higher demand in the mainstream media. And for scientists, the most effective means of bringing their expertise and convictions to the public is by working with the media.
Below are tips on meeting with an editorial board, a simple and effective way to get a message to both the public and policy makers. UCS has additional information for scientists seeking to engage the news media, please see Writing Op-Eds.
Meet with an editorial board or writer
The purposes of editorials are to recommend a plan of action, to call public attention to an issue or program, or to evaluate the actions of public officials or governments. Editorial boards of newspapers are available and willing to meet with responsible people having something to say that is relevant to the community. If you would like to meet with an editorial board or an editorial writer, your message and the editorial support you request should be consistent with those purposes.
- Write a letter. To approach an editorial board, write a letter requesting a meeting; the letter should briefly describe the issue you are concerned about and why the editorial board should know about the issue, or your point of view on it. Follow up on your letter with a phone call to see if the board, or an individual, is interested in meeting with you. An email works as well.
- Prepare in advance. Prior to the meeting, collect material that will be concise, understandable, and useful background information for the editorial board—but don’t overdo it. Four to five different pieces of information are usually enough. Any more than that and they may not read any of it. If possible, tie your presentation to something newsworthy—ideally a story that has been recently covered by the newspaper or one that the newspaper knows is approaching. Consider bringing with you other people from the community who support your point of view. Be prepared to cite as many local angles as possible.
- Be sure to follow-up. Follow up the meeting not only with whatever additional information you promised to provide, but also with a thank-you note to the editorial board members you talked with.