Dieter Lukas

     Causes and consequences of sociality

My main site
Blog: press interactions
Blog: how to find data
Blog: resources

2) What did it involve on my part to get our findings into the press?

First step: Prepare visuals

Find pictures that display the message
Make figures to visualize key points and relationships
Maybe in future make a movie narrating why I did the study

Start early! It takes time to find pictures

Preparing visuals first helped me clarify the key message:


Second step: Write a press release

This is my official statement
Serves a very specific purpose: get attention

Follows its own rules: inverted triangle
"instead of setting out context and working towards findings - you start with top attention-grabbing findings and then work outwards."
(thanks to Fred Lewsey for explaining this to me)

Should include a balance among explanations, quotes and examples because it will get published as is, quoted in other reports that are written without further contact, and used as starting point for interviews. Your main audience will be journalists, and some of them seem to have very clear expectations about what makes a good press release.

Third step: Seek out and work with professionals
Press officers at my institution and the journal help me write the press release
They have specialized channels to organize outreach

They are there to help! They were literally waiting for me!

There are additional, more specific support and learning resources available:

Written materials to help prepare outreach
Nancy Baron has written a great book "Escape from the Ivory Tower"

(by Island Press)

hat introduces the message box as a tool to convey core ideas.

Might think about taking courses in the future
My university offers classes
#Scifund has materials on making videos about research

Fourth step: Interact with journalists

Press officers have channels to contact trusted journalists
A few journalists have now mentioned that I should contact them about future papers if I think I have something that might be of interest to them

What about the interviews with journalists?

Take my time (20-45 mins)
It will likely cover all the details and include questions I don't expect. This is great because it made me think about my research in ways that I hadn't before. My recent interactions (for example with Jyoti Madhusoodanan, Carl Zimmer, Helen Thompson, Will Dunham or Susan Milius) not only made me think about how to present my research, but also gave me new inspirations for what it means and what to look at next!

Present key findings
They read the info, but this is my chance to convey in my own words what I think is most important

Explain how I did it
This is harder than I thought - unlike broad talks where I usually glance over the specifics of the methods, here people want to know what I actually did - how did I get that result

Have examples
Similar to the first step of pictures etc., examples are a great way to visualize the problem and what it means

Be aware of want for controversy
All reports seem to start with a controversy that my research resolves; can be disagreement with other scientists; issue that has been unresolved for many years; explanation for counterintuitive observation, for example why males harm their own species. Kind of the opposite of these setups. Will discuss in more detail in part 5 how to work with this format to get my own message across.

Here is an example showing the unexpected turns that such interviews can take, and the insights that interactions can create for me - a podcast with three of the great folks from BreakingBio on the infanticide study and other related topics.

What to do after the interviews?

Check transcripts?
I do not. Trust science journalists. Those who contact you actually make an effort to report correctly. It is also not different from a live radio interview.

But do check press release carefully!
This is my official statement. Point of reference that will be distributed most widely.

Check stories?
Yes! See part 3.

Twitter? Facebook? Comments under stories?
Yes, use social media to distribute my efforts! And check them and the websites with reports for what other people are saying - without getting obsessed. But, except for targetted exchanges with specific members (here's what I did for a different paper), they do not seem to be places for constructive exchange
, see part 4.

Main message
I learned a lot about my research from presenting it in a different way and interacting with great journalists!

Continue to part 3 to find out where findings can end up.

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