[ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

JCribb jcribb at work.netspeed.com.au
Tue Dec 11 01:19:26 UTC 2012

Charles et al. 

Most scientists in my experience are afraid of the media because they do not
understand it, and that is because they seldom read newspapers, magazines,
watch commercial TV etc. We all fear the unknown - but it isn't necessarily
rational to do so. Overcoming that fear is a fundamental role for science
communicators as 95 per cent of society gets >100% of the science it picks
up in a lifetime from the media. Not from scientists. Not from the journals.
Not from science teachers.  From the media.

So to pander to scientists' fear of the media is basically to give up on the
primary task of science communication.

Let us take the list of complaints of your non-troll linguist:
- was he misquoted because the journalist deliberately wanted to misquote  -
or, being a linguist, because he used language that was too highfalutin for
the journalist to understand?
- did he give the journalist a plain-language, written summary of his
comments - or rely on the accuracy of the journalists
memory/shorthand/recording? If no text was provided, then fault for the
misquotation lies with the 'expert' for being careless, thoughtless or
- did he offer to check his quotes in the story?
- did he bother to find out what the journalist thought the story was about,
and so establish his own role in it - which he could then easily have
declined if he felt there was a risk of being misrepresented.
- was he selective about which journalists and media he spoke with in the
first place? Being unselective about journalists is like being unselective
about restaurants - you won't get the same service at a chicken house as you
get at a 5-star. Again, is the poor media coverage the result of a lack of
forethought and discrimination, and a failure to appreciate the widely
varied nature of the media? 
- "they change it": this is a classic generalisation by those who hate the
media. And like all generalisations it falls way short of the truth. Many
media, especially the quality media and industry media, and especially
individual journalists who live up to their code of ethics, take pride in
trying to be accurate.
- not sure who the 'fact checkers' are, as they broadly don't exist in
Australia and are a feature of American journalism. But in any case why
would they act dishonestly? Why be cowed by a publisher whose reputation
rests on their work? Who are the 'writers' in this scenario? Blaming the
Australian media for what happens in America seems a bit unreasonable.

Sure we all have horror stories to relate, but in research we did when I was
at CSIRO, we found that 85 per cent of scientists who had never had 'media
experiences', dreaded them and were convinced they would go badly wrong, to
the detriment of their careers.  When we surveyed scientists who had done a
fair bit of media, 85 per cent told us they experience was satisfactory,
fine, excellent, reinforcing, helpful etc.

Of those who had had a bad experience, roughly half were inclined to write
it off to experience, learn the lessons and develop techniques for avoiding
the situation in future. Of the remaining 7%, we should probably never have
let them near the media in the first place, as some people just don't get on
with it, are gun-shy or don't understand its role in society.

Another issue I encountered at The Australia was that, after I had done all
I could to make my story accurate (including checking the copy with the
scientists, which I often did) some subeditor or editor may then change it
without referring to me. Very embarrassing. This was a problem on that paper
at that time - my colleagues on The Age, SMH and AFR, on the other hand,
ALWAYS received a call from their subs, if they were going to change or cut
their copy. And this is often happening, remember, with deadline minutes
away. The point of the tale is to say "don't blame the journalist" - there
are usually about 10 other editors who look at and may change his/her copy
on its way into the paper. And there are similar flaws in the TV process.
But again, good media make big efforts to get it right.

This is all basic stuff many of us teach in media courses.

Finally, there are over 4000 media in Australia - and they vary enormously
from one another. To say things like 'they media always get it wrong' is
just plain senseless. There are many, many media (most of which science
never uses at all) who will report science accurately, truthfully,
interestingly and even re-run the approved science media releases verbatim.
Bagging 'the media' does these people a grave disservice for the work they
do in transferring scientific knowledge to society.

The point is, media coverage does not have to be a disaster - and it can be
highly valuable in terms of increasing the impact/adoption/uptake or
commercialisation of the science. Like most things, it just has to be
managed with a bit of insight, knowledge - and experience.

Best regards


Julian Cribb FTSE
Julian Cribb & Associates
ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245
Skype: julian.cribb

If you EAT, you should follow: http://twitter.com/#!/ComingFamine

-----Original Message-----
From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
[mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Charles Willock
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:17 AM
To: Susan Kirk
Cc: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au; Charles Willock
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Negative connotations about journalists

Hi Susan,

  Its been an interesting week ... and its only Tuesday.  

  Yesterday, I received a message via a heavyweight linguistics
  list with a blistering negative appraisal by someone who is
  (he asserts) regularly poorly treated by journalists,
  producers and the media.

  This wasn't the opinion of a ratbag, stirrer, troll on a half
  baked list, ... this was from one of an elite group of linguists
  at one of the top US universities.

  His appraisal went considerably further than the words you are
  concerned about.  

  While I'm not at liberty to reproduce his mail here, a quick
  summary might be useful.

     o.  he was misquoted
     o.  journalists gathered items to support their own agenda
         dropping key items which didn't
     o.  if the contribution didn't fit their story they 
         change it [!!!] to do so
     o.  fact checkers acting dishonestly, cowed by publishers
         supported by writers

  There were negative remarks by others on that list too.

  To my mind, the sentence you quoted does a good job of
  expressing how many scientists think about journalists.  
  Yes, those scientists might well benefit from a better
  understanding of the constraints of the media ...

  ... but adopting a strategy of avoiding, or misrepresenting
  those perspectives would seem to be doing exactly what those
  individuals are concerned/angry about.  Not PR spin, but
  Agenda spin.

  There is a further point.  In advertising, identifying the key
  issue for the reader is an effective (according to testing)
  means of "selection" [ie getting people to read the bulk of your
  advert].  And, that works despite the copywriter's or readers
  feelings of queeziness about an issue.  Eg an advert with a
  headline "Do you have a smelly dog" is likely to attract many
  more readers whose dog smells, than a headline like "Are you
  still friends with your dog" or "Do you love your dog today".

  One possibility is to consider the statement as useful
  feedback and with that as a guide address the underlying

  That way, in the long term, your dog will smell good, your
  communications will be sweet, and everyone will have a joyous
  time of the year.

  Hmmm ...


On Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 08:30:06AM +1000, Susan Kirk wrote:
> "Do you want to be able to deal with the media but too worried about 
> them twisting your words or saying something negative about your
> Imagine my surprise to see this headline on the ASC website?
> I'm sure as communication specialists we should be able to find a way 
> to rephrase this sentence so that it's more positive of the people 
> that support its foundations.
> S
> Susan Kirk   B.comm  freelance Journalist
> Member and Queensland Web Editor -  Australian Science Communicators
> (ASC) Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) & Horticultural 
> Media Association (Qld)  (HMAQ)
> tel: +61 7 5478 6761 | mobile: 0423342867 | email: 
> susan at susankirk.com.au www.susankirk.com.au |  Skype: susanakirk |
> Tweet: susanakirk
> ³If you don¹t ask the right questions you won¹t get the right 
> answers.²
> _______________________________________________
> ASC-list mailing list
> list at asc.asn.au
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> mid=115

      "Creativity and innovation are measured not by what is done, 
           but by what could have been done ... but wasn't"

Disclaimer: http://www.eng.unsw.edu.au/emaildis.htm
Charles Willock                                 charlesw at cse.unsw.edu.au
c/- School of Computer Science and Engineering       
University of New South Wales,                  
New South Wales  Australia  2052    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~charlesw

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