Working on time-sensitive, lab-based projects can demand the vast majority of your time and resources. So why should you dedicate time out of your already packed schedule to work with reporters?
Working with journalists can provide accurate, informative updates about your research to stakeholders. Specifically, taking the time to work with journalists can help you:
- Reach a Wider Audience: Journalists can help you reach the broader public, decision-makers, and grant-makers, not just those actively seeking information.
- Raise Awareness: Consistent and accurate news coverage could increase public awareness of your work and of science in general.
- Create Positive Attitudes: Bringing current successes and future goals of science to the attention of the public could help generate enthusiasm for research and support for funding.
Writing an Op-Ed
Another option is writing an op-ed, which can be an effective channel for direct communication with the public. There are a few things to keep in mind as you produce op-eds and letters to the editor. Hopefully, the following suggestions will help the process go a bit smoother.
- Deciding to Write: Be sure that you have something to say and that you can offer a distinct perspective. Remember that newspapers typically receive far more op-ed submissions than they can print, so don't become frustrated if your op-ed does not get published!
- Word Limit: To increase your chances of publication, call the newspaper to ask about out the op-ed word limit for that specific paper. The word limit will vary, based on newspaper policy, from 250 up to about 750 words.
- Contact Information: Always include your address and a phone number where you can be reached. If your work is selected for publication, or if the opinion editor has questions, he/she will contact you. Also include your title and affiliation, if appropriate to the content of the piece.
- Timely Response: Timeliness is key. The faster you are able to respond to breaking news events, the more likely your op-ed will be considered for submission. Also, op-eds are printed quickly, so be sure to respond in a timely manner when contacted regarding publication.
- Make One Major Point: Opinion editors seek clear, concise opinions on a topic — not discussion of two or more perspectives on an issue. Your submission should clearly state one major point with a strong perspective. Often opinion editors select op-eds that comment on an issue that is being covered in the news, or is missing from the current public conversation on an issue.
- Local Newspapers Have Impact: Don't rule out local papers! In the age of the internet, local papers can be read all over the world, and are often read by members of Congress and other policymakers. Submitting op-eds to local papers also increases your chances for publication; smaller newspapers do not have as many op-ed submissions as larger, national newspapers.
- Read Them Yourself: Reading op-eds written by others can help you can a sense of how complex issues can be framed in pieces composed for public consumption. Pick up some papers yourself, or start here with a selection of online AAAS op-eds.
- Don't take our word for it: Read additional advice on op-eds from David Jarmul of Duke University. Learn more about how op-ed editors think by listening to these remarks given by John Timpane, commentary page editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.