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Chinese PIOs Learn Skills to Boost International Science Coverage

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Chinese public information officers participate in hands-on exercises at a 28 October workshop in Chengdu, China. | CAS

"Our scientists study pollution in Lake Taihu, a large freshwater near Shanghai. How do we make it interesting for international media?"

The question was one of several asked by public information officers (PIOs) at a science communication workshop held recently in Chengdu, China. And the workshop's panel of experts had some key advice: learn as much as you can about your audience.

The 28 October workshop was a first-time collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and EurekAlert!, the AAAS-operated science news service, and also the first EurekAlert! seminar held outside the United States. It was part of an annual professional development program for CAS-affiliated PIOs aimed at increasing international news coverage of Chinese research. Nearly 100 PIOs from around China, tasked with promoting their university or institution's research, attended the workshop.

Henry Fountain, science writer for The New York Times, encouraged PIOs to read the publications they wish to pitch stories, and shed light on his process in deciding which stories to cover.

"It's a constant back-and-forth. What is our mission at The Times? Who are we serving? What does the public need to know?" he said.

Honing in on why international audiences should care and emphasizing the connection between Chinese research and the audience's everyday lives can help capture journalists' attention, suggested the panel, which also included Nils Bruzelius, executive editor and vice president for publications at the Environment Working Group and former science editor at The Washington Post, as well as EurekAlert!'s editorial staff.

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Brian Lin leads the Chengdu workshop attendees in an "oath" of participation to speak up and engage in group exercises. | Joy Ma

"It was great to see how interested the participants were in what we had to say, and in communicating science outside their own country," said Fountain, who offered tips on how to work with international science reporters. "They asked a lot of really good questions after my talk."

Participants also tried their hands in writing news headlines and leads based on abstracts of recently published scientific papers - some incorporated pop-culture references like CSI and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Bruzelius, who led the news release-writing training, noted how quickly participants put their lessons into practice. "Communicating effectively across barriers of language and culture is no easy task," he said. "Their eagerness, concentration, and willingness to work together was impressive, as was their familiarity with American popular culture."

EurekAlert! staff, including Joy Ma, editorial content manager for EurekAlert! Chinese, presented best practices in media relations and encouraged PIOs to innovate new ways of working with reporters and editors to achieve a common goal: better communication of science to the public.

"This was the first time CAS collaborated with renowned international media in offering professional development in science communication, and it was a huge success," said Gong Haihua, communications supervisor of the CAS Bureau of International Cooperation and head of the training program.

"The workshop was wildly popular with attendees and many have expressed a desire to continue pursuing such high-quality training. We hope to continue developing similar collaborations and workshops in the future," she said.