Making Headlines: Promoting Research in the Media

Not all studies work well in the media, but some novel, impactful research can make big headlines, bringing important findings to a wide audience—if they’re presented in an accessible way. WSU Science Writer Sara Zaske gives a short presentation on press releases followed by a Q&A discussion with a panel of journalists whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, NBCNews, GeekWire, Science Friday, and the New Scientist, among other outlets.

Note: The recording for this session begins abruptly shortly into Sara Zaske’s presentation.

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Sara Zaske: The answers I like to say, are brand and mission. We want to promote the university. We want to get Washington State University in a positive light before as many people as possible. It’s really great to have someone else talking about us, not just us talking about ourselves. And the second part is what I view as our mission. We’re not meant to just do science among ourselves and keep all the knowledge here in this ivory tower, but to get it out to the general, general public.

Sara Zaske: But there are secondary benefits to doing research in the media for sure. Oops, wrong one…Research in the media, for sure. Though they’re not the target audience, policymakers and stakeholders and scientists all read The New York Times. They read The Spokesman-Review, so you can reach them that way. But and once you’re out in the media, you can use those stories for your marketing pieces and in social media.

Sara Zaske: So it has a long lasting effect. And I will hit the arrow right this time. So a little bit about our team, we are a small, mighty team at Central we all have journalism and higher education experience. I am the only full time science writer in the system that is just dedicated to promoting research in the media. We all have connections with journalists and we distribute press releases through AAAS’s wire service EurekAlert!. We have media software called Meltwater that allows us to send press releases directly to reporters’ inboxes.

Sara Zaske: And of course, we have the Insider and Meltwater also allows us to track where everything lands. So the audience for press releases is right in the title. We’re writing press releases to get press. So it’s written for journalists and the general public. And when I do a release, my goal is to do kind of a big blast to get a story out to national international media as well as our regional folks.

Sara Zaske: We, of course, also have regional goals. We want to be in Washington state press and there are some studies that are very geared towards that. But some fields are more niche and maybe just only one or two publications would be interested in it. In that case, we generally don’t do a big blast when we do a pitch. Though there are some niche media that are quite robust, for instance, agricultural press, there’s a whole bunch of publications that are just interested in agriculture and studies that we do here in that field would appeal to that niche media and not necessarily mainstream media.

Sara Zaske: So we might do press releases. Unfortunately, that’s not true for every scientific field. So what makes a good media story, especially for that big blast of a press release? These are things that shouldn’t be very surprising. The studies that have results versus, you know, a null result study is not something that tends to interest media. Studies that have real world impact…

Sara Zaske: Applicable science and findings that are novel or surprising, not things that confirm what we already know. They don’t tend to get headlines. Controversy always generates headlines. We just always want to be careful that it generates the right kind of headlines and timeliness. What else is in the news at the time? I often use the example of wildfire research.

Sara Zaske: It’s a lot easier to get interest in wildfire research during wildfire season, and that goes for a few things too as well. So another thing that you often hear me say is that subject matter is everything we’re dealing with. The general public and humans are very human centric. We’re interested in things that affect us. So naturally, medicine and health is a big one.

Sara Zaske: For example, this year one of our biggest stories. So far was the finding of a genetic target for a male contraceptive. That’s something that we have been looking for for a long time, and it has a lot of interest in the media. It attracted the BBC and attracted media here at home like the Spokesman-Review and Seattle Times.

Sara Zaske: Beyond that, as humans, we do like things that are just have some cool factor. And you may remember the story about a robot that twists, that yaws. And in fact this video helped it because you could see it rather than just describe it. And if it’s not about humans, we generally go down in size as one scientist put to put it to me, they call it charismatic macrofauna.

Sara Zaske: So yes, bears. Bears are very popular. Dogs are popular, all those big mammals tend to get headlines. This particular study was about how wildlife reacted in Glacier during COVID and after. So just the mere presence of people tended to make the wildlife use the land differently. Just hiking, not even hunting or anything like that. Though one point that I like to mention is that there were a couple of species that didn’t matter.

Sara Zaske: One of them was a cougar. Go figure, right? So a few things that are hard sells and this kind of I know this hurts, but grants and awards are really hard to get media for unless the grant is a huge amount. It’s hard to get some headlines. Generally, media want to know what you found, not what you’re going to find.

Sara Zaske: Occasionally, if your approach is very unusual or the subject matter is unusual, we can get some press for that. Highly technical science is really hard, at least for the big blast of a press release, if I can’t explain it in 600 words, a journalist is most journalists are not going to want to take that on. There might be one or two and that might be better for a pitch.

Sara Zaske: And this breaks my heart that basic science is hard. All that foundational work is really, really important. But it’s also really hard to convey to a general audience. Oops, wrong way. Likewise, methods papers. It tends to be a scientific interest of scientists and not the general public. Small study samples and animal studies on human health. Now we do some press releases on animal studies.

Sara Zaske: I just want to put this note: there are some outlets that have told us literally we don’t do any stories—CNN, I think, was one—until they’re in human trials. And I know that’s hard cause science is a long process and that’s usually a big step. So I’m just putting this slide up to show it’s not just my opinion.

Sara Zaske: A lot of places that deal with media, including the AGU, have similar statements of what works and what doesn’t. It’s not an exact science, but we do know what what has worked in the past and what hasn’t. So that’s kind of what we’re going by. And, you know, sometimes I’m willing to take a try at it, but we just have to kind of right size our expectations.

Sara Zaske: So these were the top research news of 2022, and you can see some of those themes playing out and what got the most potential reach, I think one, three, and five are all human impact stories. Number four has got that cool factor of things. Space tends to do really well. And I forgot to mention among the macrofauna, bugs sometimes play well if we know them like stink bugs, everybody got a stink bug in their home probably at some point or the bugs threaten us like murder hornets, which that went everywhere a couple of years back.

Sara Zaske: So. So you think you’ve got a great story for me? What what has to happen is after you identify it, you have to be the corresponding author. And that’s just a protocol that institutions have among themselves. So we don’t have press releases coming from different universities on the same topic. Sometimes we can help work together, and especially in big stories, institutions do.

Sara Zaske: So you can contact me any way if you’ve got something coming up. So contact me and your communications person in your college or unit. I will interview you. I’ll give you a draft so that you can review and make it accurate. I’ll do that. By the way, a reporter won’t. Just so you know. And then we’ll send it out, hopefully.

Sara Zaske: Time for for the study publication date. I should mention that the time to contact me is when the study is accepted, because that gives us time to get it ready for that that period. We can do it a little bit after, but not too far, you know, not more than a couple of months. And then you have to be available to speak to reporters.

Sara Zaske: And I know sometimes it’s hard for researchers because you guys are very busy, but we can talk about it and maybe even move when we put out the press release to fit your schedule. So I know some of you are probably thinking, great, I work in theoretical physics, or I work only in basic research, and it doesn’t work for media.

Sara Zaske: Well, the good news is there are other audiences than the general public that you might be able to reach and get a broader, broader audience for your for your topics. And I’m going to hit this button. It’s going to say 1 to 1, but they’re not all 1 to 1. They’re just ideas for ways you can reach these communities.

Sara Zaske: The WSU Insider: audience is faculty and staff all across the system. Students: study after study has shown that they’re mostly on social media, if that’s who you want to reach. Alumni are we have that institution’s magazine, and often at the college you have newsletters and other outreach materials. Stakeholders and policymakers: the unit communications and marketing pieces are great for as well.

Sara Zaske: And if you’re trying to reach your own colleagues, you’re already doing it by publishing in a journal and going to conferences. That’s really the best way to reach. and I just wanted to put up the names of the leaders in each of your…communication leads, in each of your colleges and units, and note that some of the units have have whole teams like CAHNRS and VetMed, whereas others just have one or two.

Sara Zaske: But these folks can help you as well find ways to get your work out a bigger audience. And then you have some nontraditional options no matter what Elon Musk is doing to Twitter, it is still rolling and there is a section called Science Twitter. If you don’t know about it, a lot of scientists, especially grad students, are on it.

Sara Zaske: And if you want to take the time to build a following and tweet your research, that is a good way to reach a very wide audience and sometimes reporters, too. And you have the option of writing your own articles. And I’m going to call someone out here. She’s she’s pretty good. But we had a business professor a while back named Lily Zhu, who wrote an article in The Conversation.

Sara Zaske: I had written a press release for her on creativity in…Conventional thinkers and how to be more creative was her study. And when I can write a press release, it has to be kind of very straightforward. But she wrote for The Conversation of how to how can you how to be more creative. And that article went a lot of places.

Sara Zaske: So The Conversation is a great outlet because it works directly with experts to write the articles on your own studies, and it gives you more flexibility and it’s worth checking out if you’re interested. Likewise, op-eds and book reviews. If I have any humanities professors here on the call, those are great options for you to comment on current things in op-eds.

Sara Zaske: They love that and book reviews. There are a lot of publications that would love to have an expert do some reviews, so I’m going to pop up a few resources here. The first to Compass an association for science communicators are geared towards helping researchers talk to regular audiences, not just the general public, but also students and policymakers. Lots of good resources there.

Sara Zaske: And AAAS has a communication toolkit about how to talk to journalists. And threw up the AAAS, AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, which is open to grad students. I think they put you in a newsroom for three months to six months where you actually take some time writing science stories. And it’s great to be on the other side of that to see how it’s done and a good way to hone your skills to communicate science in an accessible way.

Sara Zaske: So before I get to the panel, so we take a take a couple of questions are do we have an…

Emily Brashear: Nothing in the chat yet.

Sara Zaske: okay. Well, and I’m almost on time, do we have all of our panelists here? Because I can start to introduce them. there we go. I’m going to put up it’s Alan Boyle, Don Fallik, and Christie Taylor’s bios on the page. But in a minute, I’m going to them to introduce themselves. And I forgot beginning to introduce myself, other than the fact I’m a lead science writer. My background: I’ve worked here at WSU for four years and I have a background in university communications as well as journalism.

Sara Zaske: I worked as a staff reporter for San Francisco Examiner, and I’ve had a pretty long freelance career, including clips in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and other less notable places. I’ve also been an author of a book which put me on the other side of the interview. So I have done live TV and I’ve done live radio interviews, and I know what those are like. Not a fan, but I can give you some tips on how to handle those.

Sara Zaske: And that is part of what my job is as well, is to help faculty have press releases and grad students. The press releases come out, prepare for interviews and know what to expect and to do things like this to get to give you information and connect you with journalists. So that’s basically about me buying some time to make sure Alan, Dawn, and Christie are here.

Sara Zaske: Are they are they all on board?

Emily Brashear: They are all here.

Emily Brashear: But real quick, before we’ll answer, ask…Or have you answer two questions. One was, “what was the alternative to Twitter?”

Sara Zaske: I don’t know if the question is for other social media options or to write yourself, what’s the other alternative? Using The Conversation to write about your own research or to write op-eds or book reviews in your field? I see Marcia mentioned she was a AAAS Mass media fellow.

Sara Zaske: I’m sure she can tell you a lot about it. She has a whole community from that as well. And yes, Science Twitter, Don, is saying there is a community on Twitter that is kind of a group of scientists and they all follow each other. And the subsection of her, Brian, said, I meant a subsection of Twitter. Sorry. Yeah, that’s that’s what it is.

Sara Zaske: Yeah. Okay. So I am going to stop sharing. And why don’t we start with Alan? You want to introduce yourself and say a little bit about your career?

Alan Boyle: Hi, I’m Alan Boyle. Right now I’m a contributing editor to GeekWire and also to Universe Today, which is a space-centric online news site. I did work for MSNBC and for something like 19 years before that. And before that I was at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and before that I was at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. So I and my daughter went to WSU to get her doctorate in entomology.

Alan Boyle: So. So I know the lay of the land a little bit. I’ve been to the Palouse. So glad to glad to be in on this. And so I write mostly about space and and the physical sciences. A.I. Like, I’m, I’m writing up and editing a podcast relating to The Creator, this new A.I. movie that’s coming out. And at GeekWire, we do write mostly about what’s happening with the Pacific Northwest tech scene, and that does include WSU.

Alan Boyle: We have had stories from WSU and actually a lot of them have to do with funding and grants. If it’s a significant grant that’s of interest to our audience at GeekWire, because tech folks are always trying to see, okay, what is the research money going into what can turn into a potential startup? So yeah, that’s looking at what we’ve had about WSU.

Alan Boyle: A lot of those stories do have to do with funding, but it’s mostly, you know, there are some depending on the the project that’s being funded. Maybe it’s a really interesting project in robotic agriculture that gets $125,000 grant that that’s of interest because it’s an exciting topic. Other times it might be WSU leading a $125 million research program, and so that’s notable as well.

Alan Boyle: So I probably went on longer than I should have, but there you go.

Sara Zaske: No, I appreciate it. Glad to hear you have a Cougar in the family. Dawn, would you like to introduce yourself?

Dawn Fallik: Sure. I’m Dawn Fallik, I’m based here in Philadelphia and I’m an associate professor at the University of Delaware. And I’ve also been a medical and science reporter for 20 years. My background is in database analysis, and I used to run the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting, teaching other reporters how to use data and do analysis without, you know, making things up.

Dawn Fallik: I mostly write for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and NPR. And I will tell you right now, they love themselves a good trend. So, you know, one of the biggest stories that I ever wrote, I was walking down the street and all these women were at the playground wearing slings on their arms. And I was like, What’s going on?

Dawn Fallik: They’re like, we have mommy thumb. So it turns out, you know, if you’re older and your kids are fatter and you won’t put them down, you tear the tendon between your thumb and forefinger when you go and scoop them up. And it turned out it was the number one reason that women were going to hand doctors. And that story went everywhere.

Dawn Fallik: So we love a trend. We love something that’s new but actually moves the field. For example, I received a press release from Wistar today and it’s like, “We’ve cured breast cancer,” but it is not that at all. There’s something that might be good for aggressive breast cancer treatment in mice, but maybe and only a small people like only a small portion.

Dawn Fallik: So you have to be really careful with that wording. And the last thing, as Sarah said, was we love weird news. We love things that are different. I did a profile about an aviation neurologist who checks out pilots, and I know a number of you are doing work with pilots to see if it’s safe for them to fly after COVID, after a concussion when they have bad sleep.

Dawn Fallik: I think Dr. Lamp was was looking at that. So we love those stories. We don’t like to share. So I very rarely get anything from a press release because when I’m pitching to the Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post, the minute I say I got it from a press release, they’re out because they want to be the only ones who have that story unless it’s something super major, in which case their reporters probably already have that on the beat.

Dawn Fallik: So I’ve been on both sides, both as an academic and as a reporter, and I’m happy to answer any questions. And I’m on both Med Twitter and Science Twitter, so I can help you with that as well to the next person.

Sara Zaske: Yeah, fabulous, thank you. I think we have a question already, but let’s let’s give Christie a chance to introduce herself.

Christie Taylor: Hey, so I’m Christie Taylor. I am currently like quasi freelance and then also part time with New Scientist, the UK based magazine, writing their podcast. So it’s like very much sort of showcasing their journalism, but also getting a really good insight into the editorial practices of that go into like curating what stories actually are interesting to a podcast listenership.

Christie Taylor: But I used to be with Science Friday, the public radio show, and I come as kind of a hyper-generalist who wishes she had time to specialize and and just keeps like having to learn a new thing every week instead. So that’s sort of what I do. I do write articles sometimes, but again, it’s kind of like squeezing it around, like making things sound good and so forth.

Christie Taylor: But I will say that there’s not necessarily, you know, depending on whether you’re looking at radio reporters versus sort of conversational interview podcasts, you know, radio level reporting NPR does a lot of the same kinds of reporting and stories as like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal in terms of what science they think is interesting.

Christie Taylor: But if you’re coming in to like podcasts as like a way of getting your work shared, I think there’s a lot more flexibility in terms of what is interesting. You know, if you’ve ever listened to Alie Ward’s Ologies podcast, for example, you know, she just finds someone who wants to geek out about their research for a while, and it’s usually very much like, “Let’s talk about dogs.”

Christie Taylor: And she may get into the very specific and granular questions that the research the dog researcher is pursuing, but she’s also like, you know, “Why are dogs so good?” Or whatever, you know, a scientific version of that question. You know, what do we know about their evolution that makes them so, you know, how how did they become so codependent with us evolutionarily speaking?

Christie Taylor: You know, all of that. But so that’s the thing I like about audio. There is a chance to sort of bring science that isn’t necessarily, quote, newsy into people’s ears. And I think that’s really exciting. It’s also really a great space in which, you know, anything that has audio is going to get a little bit of a boost.

Christie Taylor: We just did a episode of the New Scientist podcast that’s about like these dwarf crocodile shows that make a sound very much like a cow mooing. And that’s embargoed, I think. So don’t tell. Please don’t tell anyone about that. But it’s really cool. But there’s also this really cool sort of conservation application understanding like what this crocodile sounds like.

Christie Taylor: So I’m probably going off off topic a little bit and getting ahead of like some of the questions that I know Sara had for us. But I love what I do, you know, and I think that there’s a lot of stuff that’s very interesting out there that doesn’t necessarily follow the conventions that Sara has has listed here. I will say I’m not that interested in grants, unfortunately, but it is something where I’m like, that’s interesting.

Christie Taylor: I’ll keep an eye on it for the future. Or I’m interested in knowing sort of areas of developing interest in research. So that’s if, you know, you have a cool development in mice and suddenly someone’s getting a grant to do a clinical study of that in humans. That’s really interesting. And it’s sort of like watch this space.

Christie Taylor: Process and methodology stories are really interesting to me as well. Like any time we can sort of give people a sense of what it’s like to do science, to be a scientist, to be trying to answer a really important question that’s really cool. And again, I think very good for audio in a lot of ways. And I’m going to stop talking there.

Christie Taylor: I, I think I have a little less experience than Alan and Dawn just in terms of how long I’ve been doing this. But I think I’ve got a really fun corner of the science reporting world to talk about.

Sara Zaske: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m going to have to mark my calendar for that alligator story; I want to hear what it sounds like. I think the first question we have is if you guys have any advice for researchers in how to prepare for an interview to speak with media. And it’s true that the faculty and grad students are not necessarily trained to do that.

Sara Zaske: What would help you when you talk with a researcher in terms of how they prepare?

Alan Boyle: I think one trick is to have developed a colorful or insightful or every day experience sort of analogy. You know? “What, what, I’ve discovered is like blank”. You know what, what is it like? How do you relate it to general everyday life rather than, you know, just the totally scientific explanation of what what you’ve done?

Dawn Fallik: I would say pretend you’re talking to a ten year old and most of our audiences are at that. I would say I think we write to an eighth grade level. So pretend you’re at a dinner party and you know you have a relative who is not in the sciences and try to explain it to them. I think so often researchers mostly talk to their colleagues and so you all have that same vocabulary and I’m not going to understand.

Dawn Fallik: I’m not going to know your words. So I’m very good at saying, let me make sure I understand that. But it’s good to practice with somebody like a like a ten year old and explain your work to them. And just going off what Alan was saying, it’s fantastic to have an example if you’re doing research. For example, I was looking up some of you before, so Dr. Vasavada is doing research on neck and muscular skeletal.

Dawn Fallik: I’m doing this without my notes in front of me, effects of the neck with mobile devices and also with like pilot strain, which I’m very interested in the whole pilot thing. Give me an example. Are men worse than women? Is like, are the bigger phones better than iPad, better than a laptop? To be able to give me some real world examples that my cousin, who’s a buyer for H&M, is going to understand because that’s really who we’re writing for.

Dawn Fallik: We’re writing for that general audience. We’re not writing for, you know, PhD scientists. So that that would be my biggest suggestion. I have one other thing and then I’ll shut up, is that when I’m doing interviews for NPR, I interview people twice because the first time you tell a story, it’s full of “umms” and “ahs” and “likes” and your mind is trying to get it together.

Dawn Fallik: And then I ask you that same question again and record it, and it’s much, much better. So I have I have people go through the interview twice and the second time it’s much cleaner. Your mind has put that story together and your quotes are clear.

Christie Taylor: Yeah. And in radio we call this the pre-interview where you, you and sometimes that’s also for live radio. You’ll get interviewed before the live hit. So the before the live segment, partly to help the producer or the interviewer like get a sense of the best questions to ask you in like a limited time frame, but also to help you feel comfortable answering those questions in a in a more direct way.

Christie Taylor: The only other thing I would add to is, you know, if there’s something that is particularly important to get right, you know, something that people like are more likely to have misconceptions about something, people are more likely to, you know, one word difference and suddenly you’re in a completely different field, for example, like really make sure that that’s the area you think most about how you’re going to how you’re going to explain it, or even flag that for the person interviewing you.

Christie Taylor: You know, say “this is really important to get right” or, you know, flag the things where there’s not a lot of room for error just so that they understand to tread carefully, like not every journalist understands… like knows science well enough to or like understand sort of the potential pitfalls of every field all the time. I mean, again, I’m a hyper-generalist, so like, I’m I’m talking about anti-matter one week and again, like canine evolution the next.

Christie Taylor: And so sometimes it just helps to have the shortcuts to like what’s really crucial laid out for me.

Sara Zaske: I get some really good advice from all of you, and I had a feeling we might get a question like this. Doctor [unintelligible] students in science communication course and what would you recommend science training with communication or communication training with some science, some sort of hybrid? What career path do you see in for training students coming up in science communication?

Dawn Fallik: So I can talk a little bit about this from academia. I run a program called Words for Nerds at the University of Delaware, where I train graduate students. We do 20 to 30 and I train them how to use TikTok, photo, graphics, and also how to talk to the mainstream media about their research. And what’s really important is that you’re part of the conversation, that you’re not just out there pimping out your work.

Dawn Fallik: “Here’s my study, here’s my study.” No one is going to pay attention to one voice in the wilderness. You have to be part of that conversation, whether it’s on Twitter slash X or YouTube or TikTok or whatever it is. And so at Delaware, we start training them in graduate school. And then in undergrad, we’re working on a science communication minor.

Dawn Fallik: It’s called Narrative STEM, where they are science students, but the minor is in like I teach journalism and I specifically teach medical and science writing where we have a researcher come in, they talk about their study, the students interview them about that study, and then they have to write a story about that study for the student paper. So they’re writing for the general student audience.

Dawn Fallik: So it’s really about learning how to talk about your world in accessible terms. I would much rather have students own their nerdship and be able to talk to me about I don’t know, I’m the story I’m working right now is about predatory journals, so it’s not at all like specific, but I would rather have students be an expert in their field and learn communication.

Dawn Fallik: And I think the biggest mistake that both researchers, both in the private sector and in academia make is that they assume that communication is easy because we all speak every day. And so they’re like, I don’t you know, can I just learn this and, you know, 30 minutes, can you get me a 30 minute review? So it takes practice and skill just like everything else.

Dawn Fallik: So I would suggest at least a few classes, if not a minor in it, and I’m happy to share my information on Words for Nerds, if you’d like. And Charles Bergquist, who runs Science Friday and is a UD graduate, is what is one of our regular speakers.

Christie Taylor: Charles is great, I would say. So I came into this as an almost biology major who had like organic chemistry and realized that I couldn’t specialize, went into journalism and sociology where I learned research methods of a different kind. But and I would say, though, that so so I went like towards communications after having a very steady grounding in science.

Christie Taylor: And that’s been very helpful to me. I would say I have some envy for of colleagues who did get science degrees before switching to journalism. I’ve also, you know, encountered many AAAS mass media fellows at this point, and they’re wonderful communicators. By the time they get to us, like they generally need some tech help and training. But that’s that’s sort of like a thing you can layer on top in a lot of ways.

Christie Taylor: Like you don’t need to come in to audio with audio tech, with it, with a Ph.D. in holding a microphone, for example. So it does feel like the communication can layer on top very well on top of like a solid grounding in science as an institution. Research methods mean it helps to understand the politics of academia honestly, because like a lot of the time, you’re going to need an outside researcher who’s not affiliated with the study to help you understand if it’s actually as cool as the press release.

Christie Taylor: Sorry, it says it is. And so you really want people who understand that, that academia is an institution kind of like any other in some ways, not like any other. I don’t I don’t mean that to denigrate, but, you know, people who understand the inner workings.

Alan Boyle: I was just looking through a list of I’m part of an organization called the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. And one of the things that we do is that we give out fellowships to to for students to go to graduate school in science communication. And the program has been going on for like 30 years or so.

Alan Boyle: And right now I’m in charge of the of the fellowship program. So just looking at who is who are getting these fellowships, they’re mostly people who are coming at it from a science background, and maybe they even got their Ph.D. in in whatever physics or environmental sciences or whatever. And then they decide that for whatever reason, you know, they don’t want to spend their career doing research.

Alan Boyle: They want to spend their career kind of bringing the fruits of that research to a wider audience. And so I would say nowadays the trend is more toward having having folks who are you, know, very focused perhaps on a particular field, and then they decide they want to go into communication in that field. There are still people who are coming more from a journalism background.

Alan Boyle: So I think that the answer really varies depending on what the proclivity of a particular student might be. You might have some students who who really want to have more of a focus on a particular area of science and then how to bring it to how to bring that science to the general public. And then you might have people who are more generalists.

Alan Boyle: We’re probably…The people you have on this panel are probably more generalists than than specific people. But but I think it’s it’s almost a judgment call. There’s there’s probably if you if you’re looking to have people be really successful in their careers, it’s not a one size fits all type of program. So I’m not an expert on how academia works, but maybe if there’s a way to have a dial that you can adjust for, you know, for specific specialized science knowledge versus generalist, you know, how to how to how to do a podcast sort of thing, that would be a good dial to have.

Dawn Fallik: I just want to add something to what he said. So at Delaware, I’m part of a National Science Foundation grant and I’m the first journalism professor to get one. And the grant is studying rare earth minerals. By the way: not rare, right? Which I feel is very rude, but okay. But we’re looking at critical mineral trade, cobalt, lithium, niobium.

Dawn Fallik: And so it’s a multidisciplinary grant of a million dollars. We have computer science, physics, geography, and journalism. And one of the things that the NSF said when they approved the grant was how excited they were to have somebody experienced in science communications, a faculty member on that grant to help share that, and also to help a little with the explanations between the fields.

Dawn Fallik: So when you are applying for a grant, I don’t know what the journalism department is like there, but I would absolutely reach out to some faculty if that is their background, if they have a science medicine background and work with them, like, for example, where we’re talking about a panel at South by Southwest to talk about, which is a huge tech conference, to talk about the role of critical minerals.

Dawn Fallik: And it’s a very different audience than would be at a peer reviewed academic conference. And it’s a whole different way to get the word out about the work you’re doing. Also, I’m hoping Bono will be there. Just, you know, I got a little personal thing.

Sara Zaske: That would be nice. So I want to move on to another question about some of the maybe difficult parts of doing research. So I was asking a question where for a friend who does research, where the animals end up being euthanized at the end of the experiment, how do you handle talking to media about those kind of studies or that aspect of those kind of studies?

Sara Zaske: I should say my recommendation would be not to talk about that part. If you don’t have to. But what did you guys experience in terms of having to deal with that?

Alan Boyle: I guess my inclination would be to be transparent about I mean, you don’t you probably from the perspective of a researcher, that’s not the thing that you lead with. But I think you have to be able to to talk about it. I think you can look at the recent case involving Neuralink and experiments that were done on monkeys and the controversy that that resulted when Elon Musk said while these monkeys were going to die anyway, and then somebody did some looking into what the circumstances were and found that it was a pretty grizzly picture.

Alan Boyle: And and so that’s not what you want to have happen where you you say that, you know, we have got this covered. And it turns out that there are there are issues. It’s better, I think, to be transparent about those those issues rather than having it, you know, blow up in your face, which I think it did in the case of the Neuralink issue.

Christie Taylor: Yeah, I would second being transparent. I, I always forget this because it was a while ago, but I did research communications for a couple of years, a couple of decades ago at this point. But it’s frustrating when the public finds out about animal research in a way that is not sort of planned for. I, like, I’ve definitely experienced that sort of situation.

Christie Taylor: And, you know, if you’re going to talk about research on animals, people are going to be looking for that anyway, like the people who are going to have strong opinions about even the idea of using animals in research or animals not surviving the research done on them. They’re going to be looking for that any time there’s news out.

Christie Taylor: So being transparent, you know, I think that’s also a journalistic value in general. It is just transparency. And, you know, there’s always the bigger story, too, of like, what is the cost of research, you know, that’s worth talking about. That is part of the scientific enterprise. So if it’s not something you’re ready to talk about because, you know, it’s a part of your work that you don’t want to deal with.

Christie Taylor: I mean, that that’s that’s part of the story, too, at the end of the day. And not that every animal research story is going to go down that path. But I think being ready to talk about it, I this is maybe a personal opinion here, but I think being ready to talk about it is important, too. I mean, I’m someone who I do lean towards, like talking about sort of the the ethics and values and costs and benefits and the way we do those calculations in the process of learning anything.

Christie Taylor: But, you know, if there’s time for that conversation, I think it’s important to have so that I could say a lot more about that.

Sara Zaske: But no, that’s great. A preparation I think is is always key. So a lot of people have been asking a little bit about talking with media. So can you describe what makes a good interview for you guys and or what makes a bad one? What makes you go, “I wish this person would just do X.”

Alan Boyle: I think a bad interview is where the researcher kind of goes on and on and on in a very technical way about the research. And I think is, as Don was saying, forgetting that the that your your reporter is looking for a perspective that ten year olds can can understand. That’s that’s pretty bad. And that does happen on occasion.

Alan Boyle: You know, always having a colorful anecdote, you know, keeping in mind the scientific process too, you know, how how did you feel about this research? If you’re excited about what you’re doing, that that should come through in the interview. If if it’s kind of boring stuff, then that’s not so good for for an interview. So I hope that when when you’re talking with journalists, you’re you’re excited and engaged about what you’re doing and what you want to what you want to tell people about.

Dawn Fallik: I think the hardest thing for, people on the on the other side and I’ve been on both sides of it and if you I’m the only Dawn Fallik in the whole world. So you know you can see the stories that have been written about me and that I have written, but the hardest thing about being on the, on your side is that you can’t control what I write.

Dawn Fallik: And you want to very, very badly. You want to be able to see the story. You want to be able to know the other people I’m interviewing. You want everything in advance and and unfortunately. Well, unfortunately for you. But I mean, really, that’s that’s not how it works. You know, I what is the most important thing to me is that I’m accurate.

Dawn Fallik: Reporters live and die by their corrections. I mean, particularly for somebody like me who worked for the Associated Press. If you had more than three corrections in a year, you were out. And so I want to make sure that I’m accurate and I will call you and I will read you back, say a quote or something that is particularly, particularly technologically challenging and say, “Am I explaining this correctly?” But accuracy is not precision.

Dawn Fallik: And researchers very often deal in very fine points and journalists deal with sort of broad terms. And I think that’s sometimes hard to deal with. The story I write is never going to be what you wrote, what you would have written. I’m never going to interview the people that you wish I would have interviewed. So you kind of have to let that control freak part go a little bit and realize that we both have jobs.

Dawn Fallik: And that truly, I mean, if I’m doing an investigative piece and you’re going to know that I’m coming after you, you’re the last person I’ve interviewed, but you have to sort of realize what the boundaries and that that the ethics are of professional reporters. And there are things that we can do when we can’t do.

Christie Taylor: Yeah, I think the last thing I would add I mean, I think Dawn’s point about precision and accuracy is a really important one. You know, allow us to look with a lower resolution microscope, as it were. But, you know, also especially, you know, I’m talking about audio now at this point, you know, this is sort of basic technical setup stuff, but like be somewhere that sounds good, like be in a quiet room, turn off your email notifications don’t stress too much about the exact about getting it right if it’s not live, especially because…Not getting it right,

Christie Taylor: but you know, don’t don’t stress about exactly every word you use. You will always have a chance to correct yourself. So so don’t don’t worry too much about that. Like again, we’re having a conversation with a ten year old that we know or with, you know, our cousin. And at the end of the day, like, we want it to sound conversational.

Christie Taylor: We want it to sound like you enjoy what you do. And even if it’s a really granular, you know, nerdy subject, I think one of my favorite moments in an interview was a few years back. We were talking to someone about proteins that cells use to feel other cells, and this researcher was, you know, very dryly talking about this protein.

Christie Taylor: And he was like, “So that’s my favorite protein. And then this is my second favorite protein.” And it was it was so specific. And yet that moment was just one of the most lovely ones. And we were also learning something really cool about the way, you know, the cells in our bodies detect what’s around them. But yeah, let that, let those feelings shine through.

Christie Taylor: Don’t worry too much about your peers judging you by the words that you choose, because I think that does also happen to people. Think about how they’ll sound to some colleague who’s listening to the interview as opposed to the people who don’t understand the research.

Dawn Fallik: I just want to jump in on this, which is to say that when I send emails asking for interviews, the men always write me back. Always. And women and people of color do not. And there have been so many stories about this, Ed Young from the Atlantic won the Pulitzer for his COVID coverage, did a whole thing about it.

Dawn Fallik: And when I talk to, to female researchers, they’ll say, yes, they will, they will refer me to their male colleague. They will say, “I’m nervous about how I’m going to come across. I’m worried that I will say something wrong.” If you are truly nervous about this, I will call you. I will read you your quote back. Now I record all my interviews.

Dawn Fallik: I’m not going to change it for you. Right. But that way you will know what is what I am, what is going to be in the story, or at least some of it, right? I won’t tell you what other people have said. And if it’s on the recording, it’s on the recording. If there’s something that’s incorrect, I will change it.

Dawn Fallik: But overwhelmingly, I have to send out four times as many contacts to get somebody who is a a woman or a person of color to call me back. I had the head of neurology at Harvard, who was a woman at the time, turned down an interview because she said, “I don’t really feel qualified to talk about this.” You’re the head of neurology at Harvard.

Dawn Fallik: I’m writing for Neurology Today. If not you then who, you know? And she referred me to a male colleague is very frustrating. So please, you know, if you have concerns, work with people like Emily and Sara, work with us. But please do reach out because we want your voices in the media.

Alan Boyle: Yeah, that that’s a good point. I haven’t had that happen to me where someone says, I you know, I don’t feel like I’m comfortable talking about this. So if that’s happening, gosh, something somebody has to do something about that. I had a couple of other points. One was speaking about recording interviews and transcribing them. That’s another reason why you should be in an environment that is very, you know, as good as it can be for audio.

Alan Boyle: Like there was an interview that I did with somebody who was like on a train, you know, on a cell phone, and I just could not make heads or tails out of what what the this person was telling me. And and so I did have to go back and say, here, here’s what I think I heard. And so it it was a very strange situation.

Alan Boyle: So that’s one thing. And then the other thing is people generally, journalists generally at the end say, well, “did I miss anything”, at the end of an interview. And I wonder if you could say at that point, well, here’s something that people usually get wrong about the research that I’m doing and this is, you know, just just to make sure, you know, it’s this way, it’s not the way that it’s often reported that that that’s something that in reporting on a story that’s a good thing to to be careful about.

Alan Boyle: And I wonder if that would be helpful for people who are worried that their research might be misunderstood.

Sara Zaske: This was really great advice. I’m making some notes as well. It looks like we just got a question from Roland Chen: Any suggestions on how researchers can create illustrations or videos to go along with the story? I don’t know if our if our panelists have an answer for that, but you should definitely talk to me and our team.

Sara Zaske: But maybe our panelists can answer. How important are visuals to a story? I mean, it might not be important for audio, but perhaps Alan or Dawn have some input on that.

Alan Boyle: Yeah, very important. We we have to have some sort of illustration and it can be as simple as an environmental portrait of a researcher in the lab. I mentioned that to one researcher I was writing about and that person said, Well, what do you mean by an environmental portrait? And so that’s the sort of thing where you have a person in the environment, you don’t have a mug shot just of the person standing there that and they don’t necessarily have to be doing something, but it’s kind of like, you’re here, we are in the lab, and there’s all this cool stuff in the background.

Alan Boyle: You know, in the physical sciences, you might have a mirror set up for a quantum physics experiment. So if it’s some cool apparatus or I know that we had pictures of people with rocket engines, and so just to have something cool helps the story. I mean, that just to be realistic, that that’s what we need to have on on the story on, on a web text based story.

Alan Boyle: You need art to do that. And we generally rely on the universities to provide a video if they’re if they’re doing a video to explain how something works, that’s that’s always useful. There are some outlets who might say, no, we need to produce our own video. But for us, we we don’t really have the resources. We do have a GeekWire studio, but that deals mostly with the sponsored video.

Alan Boyle: You know, they might go to a conference that AWS is putting on and produce a video. But in terms of something relating to a study that a researcher has done, we really can’t devote the resources to trying to do that ourselves. And so we we depend on on you.

Dawn Fallik: And I just want to say, please invite us out to your your field work. There’s a there’s a professor at Delaware who studies the beach. I mean, my God, invite the reporter along. There was a professor here—I was stalking some of you—so a Dr. Vera. I don’t know if she’s still here. She studies indigenous health. Invite me along.

Dawn Fallik: When you go out, I will be quiet and watch because that is my job. But that way I can take the video. Or, you know, if it’s The Washington Post at the Wall Street Journal, they’ll send a multimedia reporter along with me. But we we would love to come. So please, please let us know if you’re going out and if it’s embargoed.

Dawn Fallik: We will honor that. But it means so much more if we can be there and see what you are seeing. And and I mean, truly, the best part about doing this job is how excited you all get about the work that you do. It’s it’s very cool to hear you talk about like, you know, whether it was a catastrophe or a huge success, you know, for most of you.

Dawn Fallik: I mean, you love what you do and that’s what makes it fun to interview you. So let let us see that. Let us see the nerdy parts, because we’re all super nerdy as well or else we wouldn’t be doing this.

Christie Taylor: So I’ll just add one quick thing, which is that actually video is useful for me as an audio person because it does give me a sense of how you talk about your work, you know, whether you’re excited about it or whether whether you’re excitement is palpable, you know, and which parts it is. It’s a chance to sort of get a sense of what it might be like to invite myself to your lab to collect that audio myself and do a field trip with you.

Christie Taylor: I will invite myself over to your lab if it looks like a cool place to interview you, especially if we’re doing something more like a feature where there’s time to actually plan that out as opposed to like breaking news. So I say it never hurts to have some kind of video about the work, you know, As for how to do it, I think, yeah, that’s a that’s a question for Sara or someone else who’s got the equipment at your facility.

Sara Zaske: Yeah, absolutely. And I know we’re getting near the end of time, but just to add that we have resources at Central and often a lot of times in your unit, so you’ll have photographers and videographers who can help. It’s just a matter of timing it and setting it up. But I want to thank our panelists. This is really fabulous for you guys to take your time and talk to talk with us.

Sara Zaske: And thanks to Emily for setting this up And for all of you for attending, please keep the questions coming. I’m here on campus and I’d love to hear more about your work.