How to

Academics and Media—Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed why it is so valuable for academics to engage with the media. Now that we know the ‘why’, it is important to know the ‘how’, particularly for academics in research fields that may be deemed controversial.

First, it is essential that the academic alert the institution’s media team if they are approached for an interview or comment. This will not only keep the public relations team aware of potential coverage, it will also give the aspiring media star the opportunity to ask questions and practise answering interview questions. Additionally, if there is any fallout (unlikely but not rare) from the interview, perhaps from a controversial or misconstrued comment, it is important that the media team can be ready to manage the media scrutiny.

For an academic completely new to media, it is best to start small. That is, don’t jump straight into live television. For academics whose universities are partners with The Conversation, this is an excellent way to break into media. The Conversation editors provide excellent support for new writers. Additionally, journalists are increasingly turning to The Conversation to find experts, particularly in niche areas. Other great starting points are telephone interviews with print or online journalists. Anything that is not live or controversial will provide valuable experience for an academic forging into the media.

For academics working in areas that can attract negative attention, from media or public, it is important to be on guard. For example, if a brilliant breakthrough has been achieved through animal testing, some journalists may choose to focus on this aspect rather than the outcomes. Generally, the media team will be aware of hidden agendas and the journalists and producers likely to harbour them, so the academic will not be ‘flying blind’. The benefit of telephone interviews is that the interviewee can have clear notes in front of them. It is important to not have a sea of notes. Generally, three to four key points will be enough for a simple interview.

Most importantly, try to be calm. Journalists respect the expertise of academics and are appreciative for the time they give. If an unexpected question is asked, there is no need to panic. A simple answer of ‘I can’t speak to that, but what I do know is …’ is the best way to manoeuvre out of a corner. Additionally, avoid speaking on behalf of the institution. Tertiary institutions have strategic and specific media goals, so it is important that the academic stick to his or her area of expertise. If asked to comment on university events, strategies or news, the comment above is the best response.

Working with the media can be a great deal of fun and can open new doors professionally and academically. So get out there and engage!

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