Monday, October 06, 2008

resources on communicating research

I'm speaking next week to the annual meeting of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences -- researchers dubbed the "numerati" by Business Week's Stephen Baker -- on how to communicate research through the news media. This post is their e-handout for the session, which takes place next Monday. The good news: There are lots of great resources available for numerati seeking to communicate more effectively with reporters. Here are some of my favorites:

Dare to prepare: How should you work with your institution's public information officer? Or the one at your research professional society? What are the rules of the game when working with science reporters? Check out the National Association of Science Writers Communicating Science News to give you the basics. Then check out my post on "what to ask reporters" and "what to listen to from reporters," as well as one on getting a media relationship started. Also consult the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) website Communicating Science, for webinars, resources and workshops. Not sure who handles communications and media relations at your institution? Check out Science Sources, an online directory from AAAS.

Care with numbers: Even the numerati need to take care with the measurements and numbers they report. See my previous blog post on the Wall Street Journal's "numbers guy" Carl Bialik and his cautions about using analogies to describe very large numbers; he also offers links to sites that help public audiences visualize numbers. Or, do what science reporters do: Consult the classic book News & Numbers: A Guide to Reporting Statistical Claims and Controversies in Health and Other Fields by the late Victor Cohn.

Listen to what reporters want: Your job in an interview is shaped by the reporter's job--to get and tell a story--and by the rules of journalism rather than those of your profession. Reporters are the best sources on what they want from you. It's tough to get time one-on-one with a reporter outside of an interview situation, but handily, you can find interviews with reporters in all sorts of places, particularly science reporters. Start with AAAS, for whom I conducted interviews with top science reporters, including those at McClatchy Newspapers, Scientific American, Talk of the Nation: Science Friday, the New York Times and The Loom blog. Many news organizations, such as the New York Times, publish interviews with their editors and reporters; the Times's version is called "Talk to the Newsroom," and INFORMS members will want to check out the interviews with the science editor and business editor. Check your favorite news outlet web sites for similar interviews. NPR's syndicated "On the Media" weekly radio program looks at current events through the media's eyes; just last week, former NPR science reporter and physicist David Kestenbaum (now covering economics) was interviewed. You also can find out more about what science reporters do and how they do it in the Field Guide for Science Writers, the official guide of the National Association of Science Writers.

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