Researcher, Researchers and the Media

Recently (well actually a month ago, time flies by at the moment…) I had the opportunity to take part in a three day course called “Research, Researchers and the Media” held partly in the University of Edinburgh and the BBC studios in Glasgow. It was organised and held by Gareth Michell who is not only a lecturer on Science Communication at the Imperial College in London but also a radio presenter at the BBC radio show “Click”.

The course was divided into three subsections: Creating a short (<5min) TV news clip and a corresponding radio piece, understanding how to best communicate research to a wider audience and how to write press releases and longer news articles and last but not least to create a 20min long radio show which we recorded “as live” in the BBC studios in Glasgow.

About 40 PhD students with a very wide range of backgrounds and experiences took part in the course and we were split into smaller groups, in my case we were 8 with backgrounds ranging from particle physics, over how western media work in China to research in the fields of empathy and compassion (and, of course, geosciences!).

The first day we spent creating short news clips for radio and TV and experienced how few time reporters and journalists actually have when they create a news piece. We were given a random topic none of us was familiar with and had to come up with some kind of report on it. In our case the topic was the recent badger cull in southern England. Each of us took over a role, some where acting while others were doing more technical stuff – I really enjoyed being a camera man (yet, if you watch the video below you will notice that I am definitely too shaky…)! We spent about have the day shooting film material and recording pieces for the radio news and half of the day putting the different pieces together and editing them. The later could not have been done without Gareth’s and Bob’s experience and help.
I think the most interesting, actually a bit scary as well, bit was the editing process: Especially for the radio it is very easy to significantly alter the meaning of a sentence by editing some words out of it. If you do it right the audience will not realize that there are some bits and pieces missing. The same is true in some extend for video editing, however it is easier to spot for the audience if some things have been altered!

The second day we spent with Claire Ainsworth, a freelance journalist and science writer and former reporter and news feature editor at New Scientist and Nature. We learned how journalists pick their stories, what a story needs to be newsworthy and how to write press releases in a way they might get picked up by a journalist. For me it was a real eye-opener as I often read science news in newspapers and think to myself “Oh my, that could have been done better!”. However, once you realise that a journalist has to write about 3 articles a day about topics he or she is not familiar with it is no wonder that some things fall under the table! And I never realized that you should write a press release if you publish a paper (although that is regularly done by the journal you publish in as well, depending on the impact of your research). We had some interesting discussions on what level of knowledge one can assume in different kind of target audiences and how to best approach them. Overall a very good experience, now I only need to write those papers and then I can use my newly acquired press release writing skills…

The last day we spent at the BBC studios in Glasgow where we recorded a 20min long radio show. The theme of the show was left up to our group and so were the roles each of us had during the show. Roles up for grabs were Producer, Presenter(s) and Reporters/Contributors. We assigned roles about 2 weeks before the recording day and together we worked out a script and running order and what we wanted to talk about. I choose to be producer because I wanted to know what and how things are done behind the scenes of a radio show. That also ment that I had to make sure everyone contributed and that we had script up and running before the show started which was some hassle but thanks to our super team it worked out very well! In the end we had two presenters who introduced the different reporters and contributors and interacted with them. With five reports in 20 minutes we just about made it time wise (19:58, that’s what I call good timing!).
The radio show was recorded “as live” which means that there would be no editing afterwards and everything had to be “perfect” during the recording. This put more pressure on everyone to give the best but was also a lot of fun! After all it was not really live and enjoying it was a big aspect of it. My role as a producer was to make sure that everyone kept to their time limits, to give the presenters some hints if needed (I could talk to them but not the reporters) and to communicate with the (very experienced) Studio Manager who made sure that all the sound levels were the same, that the right microphones were on (or off) and that we actually got a recording! After our session I had to last-minute replace a producer in another group who did not make it that day which was very exiting because I had no idea what the group had planned for their session! It involved live phone calls into the studio from “listeners”, something that is very challenging for a presenter (and producer). However, I think the recording of “my” group was a bit better, mainly because we had a good structured script and a wide range of topics. But listen for yourself:

I hope you enjoyed this blog entry! Communication of your research to a broader audience is important and it can also be loads of fun!

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