How to

Academics and Media—Part 1

Engaging with the media can seem like a scary prospect. After all, journalists are not known for their subtlety and willingness to stick to ‘on-the-record’ topics. However, with the right knowledge and preparation, media engagement can be a positive career move and a great deal of fun.

There are two types of media: proactive and reactive. In the world of teaching and research, media pushes are more likely to be proactive. That is, the university or institution actively seeks media coverage for a new breakthrough or project. Larger universities are more likely to engage in reactive media, which involves receiving journalists’ and producers’ requests for expert commentary and opinion.

Regardless of the type of media, it is important to consider why engaging is so valuable, for the academic and their institutions. Academics often find that media exposure can assist with future funding applications, internal promotion opportunities and external job offers. Additionally, media exposure can assist with participant recruitment for research in niche areas that would otherwise be incredibly difficult to fill.

There is a reason that public relations is so valuable to universities. Securing media exposure is clearly advantageous in terms of free advertising, but the benefits extend beyond this. Media exposure is credible. Advertisements are great, but they are paid content. They are not neutral and are created to achieve institutional objectives. However, media exposure is a valuable commodity. It is unpaid, meaning the content is perceived as more credible. It’s no longer just the institution endorsing itself, it’s a third party with no vested interest (most of the time!). If a university professes to be a leader in science in advertising campaigns, yet a rival university is the ‘go-to’ for science commentary, which source is the public more likely to believe?

It is of mutual benefit for the institution and the academic to reach into the world of media. No doubt we all know the names of academics who are always the go-to choice when there is a terrorist attack or natural disaster. These academics started modestly and are now recognised as the experts in their field. While some have a friendly air about them and a relatable way of speaking, others become popular among journalists for their knowledge alone. The most popular spokespeople are those with both of these qualities.

Proactive media and expert commentary requests are unlikely to lead to media ambushes. If anything, journalists are grateful for the academics’ time. Experts lend a story credibility and provide a valuable alternative angle than simple reporting on events. A good public relations team will prepare you well and screen all requests for anything potentially controversial. On that note, direct media requests should always be run past the institution’s media team. They provide tips on how to deal with media and organise the finer details. More importantly, they are in tune with media cycles and individual journalists, and can smell any potential rats.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will cover the ‘how’ of media engagement.

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