Monday, July 22, 2013

How research gets out in the media

The last paper I did on bison weights and climate change got some media attention. It was written up for newspapers like this. It was covered on radio like here. Some different news stations covered it, too.

To be clear, this wasn't NPR or the New York Times Science Times, but still I'd like to think that the story traveled beyond an academic paper.

So how did that happen?

Here's the basic process that follows here.

1) Contact university media person.

If you have a good idea, you need to convince them that this might be a news story that could get some media attention.

2) Media person writes press release and releases it.

Press releases are short. They typically have a few quotes. K-State's looked like this.

I asked Greg Tammen, who wrote this one, to summarize the process:

Once the release is written we paste it into an email as plain text and send it as a listserv to various media. The plain text lets them copy and paste the story without having to worry about markup messing things up when it goes online or in print. As media staffs get smaller, it's important to make the content easy to work with. For research stories, we address the email to all of the larger national newspapers and stations that report on science as well as the larger media outlets in the state (ex- Topeka Capital-Journal, Kansas City Star). We use the BCC function so it's not apparent who all we're sending the email to. 

As far as getting media email addresses, most should be available on their website or under a story they've written. We try to send the releases only to the people who report on science or education since there's a greater likelihood the release will be used. A lot of us also were former reporters so we know people who are at the newspapers/stations and have built a relationship with them. The writer also often targets individual reporters and outlets that we think might be interested in the topic. A lot of these email addresses come from Google searches, The Gebbie directory (which is purchased) or from the reporter's professional Twitter account.  

We also put the release on three paid distribution services: EurekAlert!, Newswise and ExpertClick. Any media with Internet access can search these sites by topic, university, etc. 

So, the short summary is that we deliver the story to their inboxes and publish them on research distribution services. Once an outlet runs the release or does their own, it's a safe bet that others will follow.  

These press releases are generally under embargo based on the publication date. Journals will also often promote a select number of papers, too. Many smaller newspapers just reprint the press releases verbatim. Our Manhattan Mercury does this pretty regularly. Other websites can choose to reprint these in one form or another. ScienceDaily picks up a select number of articles. Other hybrid news sites report on the press release and/or article itself, like here.

3) Radio gives you a call.

Newspapers can reprint. Radio programs need to interview. Radio news people scan the press releases or search out people for a topic. I did something like 3-4 interviews on this so far.

Some of these are long-format. One of the ag news services, I talked to broadcast 15 minutes of our conversation.

Others, have your soundbites ready. And practice your facts.

Speaking in short, declarative sentences is not easy. I made one guy call me back and do the whole interview over. The first just sounded bad.

4) Video.

K-State also has a service where they put together video for news outlets to pick up.

Lindsey Elliot, here at KSU, was in charge of this.

Here's here take on the process:

I read the press release that was sent out about your work and immediately knew it was a topic that national media would be interested in. So I contacted you and arranged a time to get video. After filming, I then picked out the soundbites that I thought told the story, but also has some emotion and "opinion" in them. Then I edited together my video of the bison and wrote a script for a story. After that, I uploaded the video to our distribution services and sent out mass emails with a short blurb describing the story. Then media were free to download it and run it!

The whole video that I upload is usually 3 minutes long. For this story, I chose three soundbites, each about 10-15 seconds long and put those first. Then I put together about 2 minutes of bison and cattle video, shots of the animals grazing and close-ups of eating and grass, since the focus had to do with protein in the grass.

Once that is done, I upload the video to a service called PathFire, which is a video distribution service you have to pay to subscribe to. It has about 750 television stations that download video from it. I also upload it to a dropbox folder that I have. The story is what you call a vo/sot format. Basically, it is written so that the anchor can read the story while video is playing and then they play the soundbite. I've attached the script to give you an idea of what it looks like. I then send out email to the hundreds of television stations we have on a master list that I've created. I also have a list of specifically agriculture stations that I send this out to. From there, the tv stations can download it and use it as they please. They can put it together exactly how I wrote it or they can condense it or they can make it into a whole minute and a half story. I provide enough video and soundbites that they can choose whatever format they desire. We hope for a full package, but are happy with any coverage we get out of it. :)

When you watch the video, it's hard to tell it comes from a subscription service, but this is less rare than one would think.

Lindsey and I spent the morning finding bison and cows to film. I talked in front of the camera for maybe 15 minutes.

I should have had her let me shoot everything a second time, too. She did a great job of finding short bits that don't sound too inarticulate, but a second take would have been better.

That's my experience with this one so far. When I first wrote the paper, I'll admit I had the news angle set: climate change to shrink bison. We all think our work is interesting to everyone, and I've tried to push out some things in the past that went nowhere--and for good reason.

The relationships with the university press corps is important. They are the main engines here.

I'm sure researchers at Stanford don't have to work hard to get press, but for the rest of us, this may help.

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