Making your research accessible

5 tips for getting approached by the press

By 26 September 2014

Every researcher wants their work to be out there. There’s nothing bad about seeking to showcase your expertise in the media. Though it can depend on the case, there are some basic guidelines to follow that will give you a better chance of being approached by a media outlet.

Part of my job at the Russian International Affairs Council is to connect the press with experts on specific topics for interview or commentary. It usually goes like this. I get a call from a journalist who describes his story or the event he would like to cover. From that point I usually have an hour or two (at most) to give the outlet a distinct candidate who is ready to comment the issue at hand.

How do I decide who I am going to call first? Here are five B’s for it to be you:

1. Be relevant

The journalist (and me) should have a clear understanding of what it is you are studying. It should be evident that you are to be asked about this specific matter. This means that there should be open information out there about your area of expertise, a list your recent papers or even better – links to media commentary on similar issues.

2. Be available

I can’t stress this enough. A piece ‘due soon’ in the academic world is to be submitted in a month, in the media industry ‘soon’ means in an hour. If you hope to be reached out to, be reachable. If you are not willing to put a cell phone out for the world to see, then set up proper email access on your smartphone, so you can answer ASAP. Don’t worry about us – we’ll be right at our screens waiting.

3. Be eloquent

Whenever I address a reporter to a certain expert I often hear “Can he talk?”. You have to be clear in what you mean. Eliminate the buzzwords that are only meaningful for you and a handful of experts in your field. Surely, a good journalist will always clear things out, but if you are understandable and ‘soundbitey’ from the start, you have a much higher chance to be called again. Translating research to the media may be tough – start with these guidelines by Jorge Benavides.

4. Be professional

Do not comment on something you are not an expert in. This is pretty obvious but happens a lot, especially in humanities and social sciences. Are you entitled to an opinion as a scholar? Definitely. Will that opinion be completely professional? Not exactly. You may be able to give a perfectly argumented statement, but it is your duty as a person of science to honor true expertise.

5. Be up-to-date

This should also go without saying. If you claim to be an expert in a topic, the press expects you to be updated on any recent issues. The journalist should not go giving you a recap of the latest news – you are supposed to be ready to comment or at least have a vision of what is going on. Remember that journalists do not like to waste their time and we should respect that.

I believe these 5 B’s are the basic requirements for a researcher to get addressed by the media for commentary on current events or stories. Though they come from my experience in a specific country (Russia) and a specific area (international relations) I believe they are more or less universal.

I’m sure you have your own experience. Can you add something to this list?
Feel free to share in the comments below or tweet your tips to @antsvetov

Image courtesy of Jordanbaker30 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons