Discoveries and “breakthroughs” can lead the news agenda, while on breaking news stories journalists look for expert analysis to provide essential background and authoritative perspectives on complex topics.
When the media start calling, it’s an opportunity for motivated researchers to step forward, answer the questions that are on everyone’s mind, provide evidence-based information and bring wider attention to their area of study.
So what are journalists looking for when they contact an expert?
Timely response: Often, the number one priority for reporters is a quick reply. If you delay replying to an unexpected media query, you are likely to miss an opportunity to get key information across.
Keep it simple: An expert who can explain complicated things in a lively, clear and accessible way is priceless to the media.
Don’t over-prepare: It’s rare that you’ll be asked for screeds of figures or precise details of a published paper. Journalists want straightforward explanations of key trends and big-picture context, much of which you’ll already have in your head.
“It’s not really my field, BUT…”: If you know more about the topic than the reporter, that may be all they need. If you’re really not the right person, suggest some names to point them in a better direction.
What the facts tell us: Sometimes the reporter is seeking an independent, objective perspective on an issue. You may be asked to give an expert opinion on where the balance of evidence lies, and should be ready to answer questions about what actions this may call for.
Don’t shoot the messenger
Many people are involved in shaping the final story that appears. A reporter does the interview, but editors and producers have the final say in how it is covered and what aspects will be highlighted – if it runs at all. Other news events may lead to a science story being cut short or dropped.
Scientists are sometimes frustrated by headlines on science stories. Don’t blame the journalist – headlines are often written by different news staff, tasked with grabbing the reader’s attention in the space available. If something is inaccurate, approach the journalist who interviewed you in the first instance.
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