[ASC-list] World class

Peter Quiddington pquiddin at une.edu.au
Fri Jun 4 01:13:54 UTC 2010


Well, I agree and very much disagree with Julian, having spent my time
grinding away at the daily coalface, I know that restricting the use of
descriptors is silly. Also, these little pearls not only fall from the lips
of old hacks like ourselves, but are often employed by scientists. And, why
not?

The truth is that any really good quality research that makes a genuine
advance is by definition a world-first, and descriptions such as 'ground
breaking' and 'cutting edge' are not out of place. At the same time, I think
the general notion that editors are by and large disinterest in science,
only its impacts, is somewhat flawed, and increasingly outdated. This is not
(altogether) my experience; most need to be shown how and why a piece of
research is novel, counter-intuitive, odd, strange, or potentially
revolutionary in its future impacts. They need to be shown that the research
has uncovered some new essential truth, a new fact of reality, or a new
avenue for the human imagination to grapple with in order to address the
dilemmas facing humanity, etc etc...

The use of terms like 'ground breaking' and 'world beating' is no longer
useful in this task. In the world of journalism, these terms lost their
currency long ago through overuse, misuse and abuse.

We simply need a fresh crop of superlatives.

So, all suggestions welcome.
-- 
Dr Peter QUIDDINGTON
Director, Science Media,
Canberra
Adjunct Lecturer,
School of Humanities,
University of New England
Contact: 6771-2874
Mob: 0402-459-141

On Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 10:17 AM, Jenni Metcalfe <jenni at econnect.com.au>wrote:

> I'd like to back up Julian's comments below (whilst still agreeing to some
> extent with the others).
>
> Certainly journalists who participate in the media skills workshops we run
> for scientists around the country (and sometimes internationally) will
> often
> ask our participants if it's a breakthrough, world first, Australian-first,
> or cutting edge. And this has not changed over the past 18 years of running
> these workshops. General rather than science journalists ask these
> questions.
>
> However, if it is genuinely a world or Australian first - why not celebrate
> this?
>
> I am not into hype or spin; it does have to be the truth. Scientists, in my
> experience, are very conservative about whether their research is
> "world-first" and so unless they are very sure this is true and happy for
> this term to be used, I won't use it in our releases.
>
> With all media publicity, I pitch a story to a specific media audience
> based
> on its RELEVANCE (the "so what?") to them.
>
> cheers
>
> Jenni Metcalfe
> Director Econnect Communication
> PO Box 734
> South Brisbane Q 4101
> Australia
> www.econnect.com.au
> jenni at econnect.com.au
> phone: + 61 7 3846 7111, +0408 551 866
> skype:  jenni.metcalfe
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
> [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Julian Cribb
> Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 9:46 AM
> To: 'Derek Elmes'; longneck at cyllene.uwa.edu.au; asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class
>
> An interesting debate, but one that seems to lack understanding of what
> really happens in the media.
>
> The reason journalists use cliches like 'breakthrough' 'world-first' and
> 'cutting edge' etc is not so much for the benefit of the external audience,
> as for the information of the (non-scientific) editors who make up the news
> bench in a media organisation and who decide what runs and what doesn't.
>
> On any given day these editors scan and process several hundred potential
> stories from journalists, correspondents, contributors, wire services and
> media releases. From this several hundred they will select maybe 10-30 for
> the news bulletin or news pages of the paper. The remaining 80-90 per cent
> of stories are killed.
>
> A science story has a number of problems from a news editor's perspective.
> First, the media isn't terribly interested in science per se, but more in
> its impact on society and on their local audience in particular. So the
> science story starts behind the eightball, in competition with a politics,
> economics, crime, scandal, business or sport story. It has to push its way
> up the newslist somehow.
>
> Second, the science wasn't done 'today' - a primary requirement of 24-hour
> news media - but over the last few years. It may possibly have been
> published today, but that is not a very strong news angle. Media likes its
> news to be 'red hot' if possible. So in a sense the science story is
> already
> ageing news and there is no particular argument to run it today as opposed
> to any other day. And the newslist is already full.
>
> Third, if you are selling a story, say on a new genetic approach to cancer
> therapy, the editors are likely to say "Oh I'm sure I've seen something
> like
> this in the news before" and kill your story just to be safe, even though
> it
> may be fresh as a daisy newswise. They have not appreciated the distinction
> between the genes in your story and the genes in a hundred other stories
> like it. Frustrated science journalists often resort to terms like
> "world-first" to get their editors to understand that this IS a genuine
> news
> story - not old hat and headed for the spike.
>
> Fourth, the media is almost invariably local in its focus, and a term like
> 'world first' or 'cutting edge' is a signal to its editors that local
> scientists have done something good.  Local heroes always get more coverage
> than those from interstate or overseas - whether they are scientists or
> sportspeople.
>
> A science story has to work very hard to get into the top ten percent of
> publishable/broadcastable news. Most experienced science journalists will
> admit that more than half their efforts usually end on the spike. That was
> certainly the case when I was at The Australian, and I know from my
> colleagues on other dailies they suffered the same fate.
>
> So while it is all very well to bewail the use of clichés in journalism -
> and I do not like them and try constantly to avoid them personally - there
> needs to be an appreciation among science communicators about what a
> science
> story is really up against when it enters the news mill, and why a science
> journalist might resort to colourful language to give it more impetus with
> the editors who have the final say.
>
> To insist on the elimination of such clichés will probably only result in
> fewer science stories being published, as a scientifically-illiterate
> editorial stratum will not understand they are in fact about genuine,
> world-first, breakthrough, cutting-edge science - and send them to the
> growing scrap-pile of unpublished news.
>
> While I applaud the elimination of self-praise and hype from institutional
> media releases, I defend the right of both science journalists and
> communicators to use every verbal device they can to disseminate human
> knowledge more widely via the media, without being too heavily criticised
> by
> their peers for doing so.
>
> If this doesn't start an argument in ASC, nothing will...
>
>
> Julian Cribb FTSE
> Julian Cribb & Associates
> ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245
> http://www.sciencealert.com.au/jca.html
> www.scinews.com.au
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
> [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Derek Elmes
> Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 8:51 AM
> To: longneck at cyllene.uwa.edu.au; asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class
>
> Niall, Nancy et al
>
> I recall Rob Morrison commenting on a similar issue several years ago.
>  When
> posting to this list an advertisement for a science communication position
> not long after, Rob's comments prompted me to invite people interested in
> "communicating cutting edge breakthrough research" to go and work for a
> mining equipment organisation.
>
> I suppose the question I'd add is do we know what audiences (as opposed to
> communication professionals) think of such words (whether these ones or
> ones
> in other areas of communication e.g. "hero" sports people)? Are there any
> studies about audience reaction to there use or over-use?
>
> Cheers
>
> Derek
>
>
> Derek Elmes
> Scientific Services Division
> Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW)
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
> [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of
> longneck at cyllene.uwa.edu.au
> Sent: Friday, 4 June 2010 12:51 AM
> To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Subject: Re: [ASC-list] World class
>
> Hello Niall,
>
> Yes, I agree. 'Cutting edge' is another one to avoid.
>
> Cheers, Nancy
>
> Assoc Prof Nancy Longnecker
>
> Coordinator, Science Communication Program
> Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences, M011
> The University of Western Australia
> 35 Stirling Highway
> Crawley, WA   6009
>
> ph: 61 8 6488 3926
> email: nancy.longnecker at uwa.edu.au
> skype: nancylongnecker
>
> There is no point explaining everything in the universe if no one is
> listening to you.    (UWA Sci Comm student, 2009)
>
> CRICOS Provider No. 00126G
>
>
> > I'm interested in ASC members' views on the use of world-class and
> > breakthrough in media releases.
> >
> > We try to avoid them.
> >
> > I generally think that if the work is good it doesn't need the puff.
> >  The journalists can add it in if they want.
> >
> > Noel Turnbull made a similar comment in a piece on Crikey today.
> >
> > So, for instance, the Victorian government can be obsessive about
> > describing things -- from our events program to buildings -- as
> > world-class, but the reality is that world-class things don't need
> > to be promoted. It is symptomatic of Britain's decline that the
> > world-class cringe sometimes surfaces there too, but one never hears
> >  New York or Paris talking about world-class -- they just are.
> > Niall
> >
> > ________
> >
> > Niall Byrne
> >
> > Science in Public
> > 26 Railway Street South, Altona Vic 3018
> >
> > ph +61 (3) 9398 1416 or 0417 131 977
> > niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>
> >
> > Full contact details at
> > www.scienceinpublic.com.au<http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/>
> >
> >
> >
>
>
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-- 
Dr Peter QUIDDINGTON
Adjunct Lecturer,
School of Humanities,
University of New England
Contact: 6771-2874
Mob: 0402-459-141
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