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Bethany Halford's Tips for Scientists
in Communicating with the Press
- Don't go on vacation the week your paper comes out. The press wants to talk to you, not the P.R. person.
- Don't just give a powerpoint presentation.
- Your work is interesting, but you must learn to talk to people who aren't scientists. You do it all the time family dinners, with your dentist, on airplanes. Reporters are just the same.
- Just because someone doesn't understand everything about your work, that doesn't make them stupid. Just make it simple. Try to say it in a sentence or two.
- An analogy or image even if it is flawed can really bring a point home. I have described the layers of the atmosphere like an onion, and self-assembling carbon nanotubes as Slinkys, Lifesavers candy and spiral staircases.
- A good picture will get your work a lot of attention. People like cool things to look at.
- Reporters don't generally work on the same kinds of deadlines that you do. Respond as soon as you can. It would not be unusual for a reporter to have to turn something into a story within a few hours.
- Reporters are also limited in terms of time and space.
- They are not your advertising firm. A good reporter will write a balanced story. Don't be afraid of that.
- Be kind if a reporter makes a mistake. Often the error occurred sometime after the story left their hands. The editorial process is labyrinthine. A good reporter wants to be accurate, and if they've messed up, they'll generally try to correct things, or get them right the next time they report. If you throw a fit, they'll just find someone else to put in the paper ... and they'll tell their friends.
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