[ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

JCribb jcribb at work.netspeed.com.au
Tue Dec 11 05:25:17 UTC 2012

Again, there seems to be a broad assumption emanating from science (and,
alas, some science communicators) that the media are all tarred with the
same brush of sensation and wilful distortion.


That’s like assuming all priests are paedophiles, all politicians are
corrupt, or all scientists are socially disadvantaged.


Over the years I have observed outstandingly accurate coverage of scientific
issues by the many professional, technical and special interest magazines
and papers that serve industries, sectors and professions – yet, despite
reaching a key target audience that adopts and uses the products of science,
this is a component of the media broadly ignored by science, usually on the
flimsy pretext that “I don’t do media because the media get it wrong”.


Citing occasions where the media get it wrong serves no useful purpose – any
more than listing the number of times science got it wrong. It only
entrenches fear and ignorance, and devalues the science itself by ensuring
it reaches fewer people and has less beneficial impact. 


One aim of our profession is to help the media to get it right – and that
includes finding the right media outlets and the right journalists. It
includes training scientists in the many useful and simple techniques that
minimise the opportunities for a misreport.


Today it has been estimated that one scientific paper in every two is not
read by anyone other than those who wrote, reviewed and edited it. 


Half the world’s science is going down the toilet because so many scientists
are afraid to engage with the wider society via the media. 



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


From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
[mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Phillip Arena
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 3:20 PM
To: Jenni Metcalfe; asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists



Yes a very interesting topic indeed, but a can of worms nonetheless and
firstly, I will apologise if I offend anyone.

I've always had a good relationship with journalists, but this has come
about through a mutual understanding and of course it's difficult to
generalise as ultimately, there are journalists and there are journalists.
Am I incorrect in assuming that journalists do need to 'sell' their stories
(I'm avoiding the word 'sensationalism' here)? I have colleagues and friends
who are journalists and we do our best to work together, however, from a
journalistic point of view, much of my work (in herpetology) has been
considered too (let's say) 'boring'. However, more recently (and as we
speak) much of work has become very controversial (and therefore, more
attractive and easier to 'sell' to the media both locally and

I can think of countless experiences with journalists, both positive and
negative and some that simply reflect the 'way things are'. Here's an
experience of the latter, I can remember from back in 1999. 

At this time, our state government proposed a Regional Forest Agreement that
many of us (particularly scientists) did not agree with. In our southwest,
there was logging and where there was logging, there were protesters. A
journalist colleague told me that although I had a clear perspective on
things, she was not interested in interviewing me because a) I knew what I
was talking about and b) I didn't look like a 'greenie' (which I always have
been!). She was more interested in interviewing the 'radical' protesters
who were spiking trees (hammering nails in trees earmarked for logging) and
the pro-loggers who were drinking in the local pub and talking about how
they were going to "kick the @#$# out of the hippies". She was reiterating
the fact that her priority was to sell papers. These comments put things in
perspective for me - the more controversial, the better.

Journalists have a job, just as the rest of us and from my experience, I
will always value my research much higher than my audience.

As for deliberately distorting stories, it's unfortunate that we're most
likely to remember the times when this has happened. For example (sorry,
herpetology again!) there was a case of a boy being bitten by his pet python
in the USA that was reported by numerous newspapers of different 'calibre'.
I used this example many years ago when teaching science communication. Each
paper put its own slant to the same story. For example, the most reputable
broadsheet reported the boy to have been accidentally bitten by his snake on
his face while feeding it; he was treated for a minor scratches etc etc. The
other extreme 'tabloid'-like publication reported something like "a boy was
savagely attacked by a python ....covered in blood.....almost lost an eye"
etc.  At the time, I followed the story up in person and found the who
incident to have been very and almost laughably minor.

This is a wonderful teaching tool - find and analyse how a single
topic/incident is reported by different media.

So yes, from my experience, I have witnessed both sensationalism and
distortion and would I be vehemently incorrect in saying that for many
scientists, there is a correlation between the nature of the
publication/audience and the creative strokes of the pen?


-----Original Message-----
From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au on behalf of Jenni Metcalfe
Sent: Tue 12/11/2012 10:46 AM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: [ASC-list]  FW:  Negative connotations about journalists

What an interesting dialogue...

After training scientists to use the media for more than 20 years
(http://www.econnect.com.au/workshops/talking-science-with-the-media/) and
after working as a science communicator for more than 23 years now (yep,
getting be an old cranky bugger), I would have to say that many scientists I
have worked with have found working with journalists a generally very
positive experience.

We always have 3 working journalists participate in our workshops (and in
the old days of 2-day workshops, we had 5) and the scientists participating
invariably cite the journalists involvement in the workshops as the
highlight of the workshop.

In our discussions with the journalists, we often ask how important it is
for them to 'get it right', and they are invariably affronted by the
question... and stress the many ways they do try to get things right,
especially with science and technical stories.

Unfortunately, a myth perpetuates about journalists - that they are
sensationalist and deliberately distort stories. The interaction that
scientists have with journalists in our workshops goes a significant way to
proving this myth wrong!


Jenni Metcalfe
Director, Econnect Communication
phone: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866
jenni at econnect.com.au
skype: jenni.metcalfe
PO Box 734 South Brisbane Q 4101
subscribe to Econnect's free monthly e-newsletter:


-----Original Message-----
From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
[mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Niall Byrne
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:59 AM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

I think Julian's nailed it.

The ASC was founded by journalists AND communicators. And the ASC hosted the
World Conference of Science Journalists. But the number of journalists who
are members of the ASC has declined over the years, and not just because of
the challenges in the media world.

We, the ASC, should want to engage with and recruit journalists to our
membership. So best if we don't treat them with contempt.



Niall Byrne
Creative Director
Science in Public
82 Hudsons Road, Spotswood VIC 3015
PO Box 2076 Spotswood VIC 3015
03 9398 1416, 0417 131 977
niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Twitter scienceinpublic
Full contact details at www.scienceinpublic.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 JCribb
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 12:19 PM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

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
> http://www.asc.asn.au/index.php?option=com_content
> 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

ASC-list mailing list
list at asc.asn.au
1> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=11

ASC-list mailing list
list at asc.asn.au
15> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=115
ASC-list mailing list
list at asc.asn.au
15> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=115
ASC-list mailing list
list at asc.asn.au
15> &task=view&id=97&Itemid=115

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://www.lists.sublimeip.com/pipermail/asc-list/attachments/20121211/9a0ac945/attachment.htm>

More information about the ASC-list mailing list