Making your research accessible

Research and the media: fighting the anxiety

By 14 May 2014

Let’s say you have it all done right. There’s your perfect research product – a report, action plan, roadmap, policy advice, you name it. It’s timely, forward-thinking, substantiated and up-to-date. You have no doubt in its quality. The trade experts praise your good work and you even received a letter from a certain government body saying the paper “will be taken into consideration and used in the agency’s planning and activities”.

But that is not enough, is it? You want your research to get the earned attention – the hype that is produced by a new smartphone launch with reporters calling you all day long asking for further comments and elaboration. So you try your best – press releases are sent out, social media channels are used, even a press-conference is held. And the reaction is the press is pretty much a ‘Meh’.

This is when you get the well-known feeling of media denial anxiety. It progresses very much like grief acceptance – the famous DABDA or Kubler-Ross model – and here’s what you are probably telling yourself:

1)      Denial. “They must have lost my email”, “They must be all just so busy with the whole election/Syria/Ukraine thing”

2)      Anger. “They just don’t get it! This research is the breakthrough of the century. Oh, the press is so ignorant these days!”

3)      Bargaining. “Maybe if I reformulate my pitch in a simpler way I can get more attention”, “What if I make my research results look scandalous?”, “I have to get Guy Kawasaki/Noam Chomsky/Jay-Z promote my research”

4)      Depression. “I have to face it: no one cares about proper research”, “We’ll never be able to eradicate poverty with this attitude”

5)      Acceptance. “OK, next time it will be better. Sooner or later they will understand and I can pitch this majestic piece of research to the media again. THEN will I get the coverage I seek”

The trickiest stage here is Bargaining. At this point you get the strong temptation to ‘de-professionalize’ your research results. Be careful: trying to make your point media-friendly may change its original meaning. If the main conclusion seems too long and specific, there is probably an academic reason for that.

I strongly believe that one should not give in to that temptation. Surely, communicators in think tanks and research organizations should do their best to present their research products in a manner that is plain and comprehensible for the general public. But being professional is more important.

In the end, would it be better if your message was misinterpreted or even distorted?

Please share your ways of dealing with media denial anxiety in the comments below or tweet your tips at @antsvetov.

Image Courtesy of Yoel Ben-Avraham

  • Megan Lloyd-Laney

    I love the idea of media denial anxiety – we’ve all been there. As a former journalist, I think there’s real virtue in developing relationships with key journalists in advance of publishing your story – you can use them for informal feedback in advance to make sure you’re making clear what’s newsworthy about your research. Using twitter to attract attention of individual journalists who you know are involved in discussions around your topic also helps. Good luck!

    • Anton Tsvetov

      Megan, I appreciate the comments very much and thanks for the shoutout on Twitter. I think it’s also important to find journalists that trust proper scholarly research, as some still prefer sensational hype over profound, but “boring” analysis.

  • Nyasha Vuta

    I am often told that a journalist is as good as his or her source and I believe it, but what is a story without an audience? After reading this article, I agree that media anxiety is what researchers need to work on to make reporting more clear and relevant. I find the use of social media platforms effective in dealing with feedback, lets use them more. Thank you for this article!

    • Anton Tsvetov

      Thank you very much for the feedback, Nyasha! Thankfully, these days we have social media that allows us to promote research by ourselves. But it helps to have media attention too!