Remembering My Hat

25th January 2012

Media tips for academics

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 22:54
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today I went on some training for academics on dealing with the media. It was very good. The OU organised it but it was provided by inside edge media training. What follows are some of the key things I want to remember.

(cc) tim ellis

The training was called ‘Media training for experts’, which initially gave me pause – it feels over-claiming to describe myself as an expert although I suppose I am on a small number of topics. But thinking about myself as being positioned by journalists as ‘an expert’ was very helpful. As they said, if you’re being interviewed in your role as an academic, they’re not going to treat you as a politician, so they’re probably not going to push you as hard as they would David Cameron. And, as they didn’t say but I thought, being positioned as an expert who is also an academic will usually tend to position your statements as being more reliable and unbiased than other types of expert. Of course, that’s not necessarily true, but it’s an advantage.

But relatedly, you do want to come over as a real human being as well as an expert. So drawing on your personal experiences of whatever you’re talking about (if appropriate) can be a good way of doing this. I, and I suspect most academics, tend to depersonalise and generalise. But, just as in teaching, you often need to start with a concrete example and then move to the more theoretical point you want to make, so that your audience cares about what you are talking. One of the pieces of personalised feedback I had from the trainers from my mock interviews was that I needed to be clearer about why I wanted people to hear my message. I think saying to myself ‘I feel passionately about this because…’ might help with this.

I was amused to hear them talking about news values, which I’ve written about in K319, so that bit made a lot of sense to me. Hooray for teaching and other work synergy! I need to hang on to a sense of ‘now’ness, action, and things happening, especially when I’m trying to create news, rather than responding to an existing news story.

I need to identify in advance of any media work:

  • what my ‘top line’ is – the key message I want to get across
  • what the contrary argument is – journalists (generally) try to appear fair, so I may well need to argue my case. Or there may be a second guest arguing against me (although they should warn me in advance if that is the plan. But they might forget, so it’s worth checking).
  • what the contentious or difficult questions might be. Then try to think of strategies that would allow me to acknowledge the validity of the difficult stuff but then make a link back to the key message. So saying things like ‘yes, that’s true in a small number of cases but the vast majority…’ or ‘but I do want to make the wider point that…’
  • who does my message potentially put me into conflict with?
  • what are the key examples/case studies/anecdotes that will help me make my wider points.
  • what are the areas I cannot or will not talk about, and agree these with any other members of the team who might be doing media work
  • if it links to my personal experiences, whether and how much I am prepared to talk about those.
A particularly empowering piece of advice was that it’s probably better not to take up an unexpected opportunity to be interviewed than to do it unprepared. The trainers said that most journalists will re-order things if you say you’re not available for an hour, which gives you time to prepare yourself. And if they won’t, you’ve only lost that opportunity, not all future opportunities.

A chronological account of a piece of research might go ‘we got some funding to investigate A, so we did B and the results were C which has the implications D’. But to make it news friendly, you need to start with D.

Don’t get distracted by the mistakes journalists make that aren’t really important. In my mock interviews, the trainer described me as the sole author of a report rather than one of many and used some terminology that I wouldn’t. But correcting that would just have distracted from what I wanted to convey in my precious 3 minutes. It’s hard though, because I do care about my co-authors feeling elbowed out and about precise use of language. But I need to ignore those kinds of things in this context.

Use direct and everyday language, keeping it as concrete as possible. Try not to use jargon at all and don’t use complex language unless you explain it immediately afterwards – in the next clause, not even in the next sentence. It just distracts people. For example, while most people probably know roughly what ‘LGBT’ means, if you don’t immediately say what the letters stand for, people start trying to work it out, so stop listening to what you are saying. Also, don’t mention details that are irrelevant to your key message but important to you, like who your funders were or where an event is taking place. They’ll distract too.

Some very practical tips:

  • at the end, don’t hurry to take the headphones off or get out of the chair, even though you really want to. You might still be audible/visible/wired up.
  • don’t wear noisy clothes – things that rustle or jingle
  • feeling at ease is your responsibility – the interviewer is unlikely to have time to try to help you.  Try some breathing exercises or shoulder rolls.
  • journalists are often looking for someone to interview in the 6-7am slot. And if you do that, you may get to set the day’s news agenda.

I’m anticipating doing some media work when The Bisexuality Report is launched next month. I may not actually be asked to do any interviews, but I feel much better prepared than I did.

Advertisements

1 Comment »

  1. […] got to put my media training to use yesterday, when I did a short piece on the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme at […]

    Pingback by Sex in care homes: On the World Service « Remembering My Hat — 27th June 2012 @ 11:57 | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: