Communicating with the Media
The media do not merely record public and political concerns; they play an integral role in shaping the political agenda and influencing public opinion. Not only do politicians receive clips of all articles concerning them and issues of importance to them, Members of Congress increasingly check their positions on issues against media coverage and poll data from their district or state. Public officials look to news to determine what issues are hot and which side seems to be winning.
The power of the local press can be even greater than that of the national media. In an average city, one daily newspaper, three television stations and an all-news radio station command almost all the attention.
- Policy issues and personal experiences complement each other in the media.
- Use your own experiences as a scientist to justify your policy assertion.
- Use quotable phrases
- Avoid technical jargon and acronyms
- Explain your work in terms the lay public will understand and appreciate. This is especially important for basic researchers
- Work with your institution's public relations staff in communicating with the media. Their expertise is at your disposal.
Communication in the media can take place in many formats:
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the editor may be submitted either (1) in response to a written (or broadcast) story of interest to you or (2) on a subject of your own choosing, regardless of whether that topic has been the subject of a recent news story. Letters to the editor are paid especially close attention by policymakers and are more consistently read by all readers than either editorial or op-ed pieces In addition to the "general" media tips provided here, consider these points when submitting a letter to the editor. If you are responding to a story, submit your letter as soon as possible after the story is printed (or broadcast). Consider recruiting colleagues to "co-sign" the letter. A letter demonstrating consensus around a particular issue or point of view is a powerful policy statement.
Brevity is essential. If you wish to discuss a complex policy issue that requires explanation, consider a different format such as the op-ed.
Placing an op-ed (opinion editorial) allows you to present a logical, informed opinion on an issue to the public. The media use op-eds from members of the community to inform and educate their audiences. Op-eds are usually longer than letters to the editor and as such, allow for discussion of more complex subject matter. You can send an op-ed to all available media outlets in your community, including daily or weekly metropolitan/suburban newspapers, university newspapers, alumni newsletters and in-house newsletters or voluntary or service-oriented publications (such as your local American Cancer Society chapter newsletter).
Personal interviews offer a tremendous opportunity to convey your message about the importance of investing in basic biomedical research. Consider these points before granting a media interview, decide beforehand the key points you would like to see printed or aired in the story and make these points often in the conversation. Consider your audience. If you are unfamiliar with the publication represented by your interviewer, say so. Ask for a quick description of their audience demographics, and tailor your remarks accordingly. Avoid speaking "off the record." When you are speaking to a representative of the media, assume that all your comments may be quoted, either in context or out. Give the media what they need: quotable phrases. Describe a few personal experiences.