Media work

Two weeks at the Science Media Centre

I have spent the past two weeks as a volunteer at the Science Media Centre (SMC). So what does the SMC do?

Here is the word from them: “The SMC is first and foremost a press office for science when science hits the headlines. We provide journalists with what they need in the form and time-frame they need it when science is in the news – whether this be accurate information, a scientist to interview or a feature article.

In between these big stories, we are busy building up our database of contacts on the areas of science most likely to feature in the news. This allows us to be pro-active and puts us in a position to facilitate more scientists to engage with the media when their subjects hit the headlines.

We also run a series of longer term activities to improve the interaction between science and media, such as advice guides for scientists talking to the media, background briefings for journalists and ‘Science in a Nutshell’ cheat sheets for news desks.

Our aim is to ensure that when a major science story breaks, we can quickly offer news desks a list of scientists available to comment, a summary of the main scientific points involved and details of which press officers or web sites to go to for further information. The feedback from journalists has been very positive”

When I started my two week placement I wanted to learn what front line science communication is really about…and trust me, these people are on that front line! I attended one of the SMC’s media training events last year and, like most scientists, started out being extremely cautious about the idea of talking to the media. But I was an instant convert to their philosophy – after all, if we as scientists don’t talk to the media we might feel “safe”, but the reality is that the stories will get written anyway and our voices won’t be heard.

My media experience is extremely limited so far, but I have been convinced by the SMC that communication of science from the scientists to the general public is absolutely vital. Scare stories at best worry people and at worst cause people to change their behaviours in dangerous ways. A balanced view is the best protection. And specialist science journalists, for the most part, know what they are doing if they are given the right information. They tow a fine line between knowing how to present science to the public and getting the key facts and figures out of the experts: And all this in just a few hours, if that, to research and write their stories. I know I couldn’t do it.

My two weeks is over now and I have seen and heard lots of really interesting things. I have attended SMC media briefings, which cover a wide range of science/health/environmental stories. The journalists who attended these briefings all got the best information straight from the horse’s mouth, and all the main national papers were there to get their facts right. I have worked on the SMC database, which contains the contact details of thousands of scientists who are willing to comment on breaking stories. If you are not on there, then you should be! I have also seen how the press officers answer numerous enquiries, plan responses to media stories, conduct media training, create fact sheets for current news stories and plan meetings for scientists and the media.

These people are mad busy, and I really appreciate that they made time for little me in their hectic schedule. They are professional, dynamic and super friendly. I have learned a lot from them 🙂

If you are a scientist, in any area, you would do wise to visit their site and consider joining their database. They are OUR front line and they will always do their best to promote GOOD SCIENCE.

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