[ASC-list] Negative connotations about journalists

Susan Kirk skirk at iprimus.com.au
Tue Dec 11 01:50:15 UTC 2012

Hi Charles and all,

Some good points.  But...

Do we really want to perpetuate the perception that if scientists talk to
the media they will regret it.  To me this sentence says; the media are your
enemy.  Let us train you in strategies to be able to deal with them
including the issues of being misquoted and having your research bashed.
For one I would like to know how this training intends to overcome the
issues of being misquoted.  I raised this issue on this list a few weeks
back, with little input.  Also having your research portrayed as negative
may be inevitable, in some cases.

I'm not saying that the media is perfect but there are two sides to the
story.  I have had a 'heavyweight' scientist accuse me in a recent email of
being misquoted.  After I sent him a copy of the draft,(not a pre-requisite
in journalism btw) He said and I, quote: "I don't remember saying that and
you appear to have the chronology of events wrong.  He went on further to
say that he was happy to talk to me about this misunderstanding (over the
phone) but if not I was to remove his input from the article.  My response
was I don't make up quotes and I was happy for him to direct his comments
for any factual errors directly into the draft and I would look at it and
make any changes. If not the article would remain as is. He has not replied
I don't know why he believes he was misquoted.  I have not rang him and
maybe I will.  

One assumption is that he changed his mind about being in the article as it
is quite scathing of a federal statutory authority.  Which leads us, I
think, to the real crux of the problems of media and scientists interaction
is that of the government agenda or toeing the party line (Holland et al
2012  URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2011.652651)

So is this a good experience for a journo? Of course not. I'm freelance so
sometimes I have the luxury of very long lead times as is the case with this
article which is still progressing.  I have had this happen also on another
occasion and I was on a deadline and had to rewrite the article. This was
because of a 'prima donna' attitude of oh I didn't realise you had another
source.  Please remove me and my research from your article.  I acquiesced
because I don't have the luxury of a news corp to fight for me, in case of
any issues of litigation, which is always a sober experience for any journo
or publisher, and besides the aggravation is not worth it in some cases.  I
have a blacklist too.  So here imagine the frustration of a journalist on a
tight deadline.

But back to the good points.  Yes that sentence might work for marketing,
but I was never taught to promote negative comms at the expense of a
positive experience.  I envisage this outcome for that piece of marketing
blurb. Some scientists (people after all) will decide that they are not
prepared for the warfare and they still won't take the training. Others may,
those who believe they have been wronged, or maybe those who need to promote
unpopular science.  But I have a feeling those people already have their own
methods of dealing with the unscrupulous.

Why not appeal to all by saying something like?

"The media plays an important role in communicating science to the public
and shaping public policy.   Come and discover the positive interactions you
can have with the media and help you and your organisation promote your
research and science successes."

Is that the truth? well maybe it won't ring true for those who have had a
bad experience but in expressing the original sentence you are shaping the
thoughts of those who have not had any experience, and re-shaping those who
have had positive experiences.  It's about working together isn't it?


On 11/12/12 10:16 AM, "Charles Willock" <charlesw at cse.unsw.EDU.AU> wrote:

> 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
>   issues.
>   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 ...
> :-)
> Charlesw
> 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 research?"
>> 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
>> _______________________________________________
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>       "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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