A well-publicized piece of research can inform and shape public debate and can often be the bridge that connects you, the researcher in the laboratory, to the general public. An online piece in the Guardian or Sydney Morning Herald will be read by millions of people around the world and will have a trickle-down effect to smaller publications and outlets.
Have you ever considered how news of a new scientific discovery or medical breakthrough gets into a media outlet such as the New York Times? The process all starts with you, the researcher, considering how ‘newsworthy’ your research is and how strong the evidence is that supports your research.
Five key questions for discovering the newsworthiness of your paper
- Is it new research? Does the paper present original findings or a new angle to an ongoing debate? Are the conclusions strong? Journalists require news to be new
and usually won’t be interested in a study that has already published online or has been covered by the media previously.
- How global is it? Are the implications of the research global, or are they limited to a specific region or country? The more global it
is and the more people it will affect, the better.
- What type of study is it? Evidence-based studies such as systematic reviews, meta-analyses, or randomized controlled double-blind studies with strong
results have more credibility with journalists than opinion pieces or editorials.
- So, what does that mean to the man on the street? Are the findings of interest to a wide audience – could you describe ‘the news’ to your next door neighbour?
- Is it timely? Is the research about a topic that’s been covered in the media recently or is ‘trending’ in the media?
The Hierarchy of Evidence Pyramid is a useful tool when deciding which studies may be of most interest to journalists. The weight of evidence of a particular piece of research increases the closer the study is to the top of the pyramid.
If you think your research is newsworthy, it’s important to flag it to your publisher or institution’s press office early on, ideally during the peer review process and
as it moves towards acceptance. If accepted for publicity, it is essential that publication of the study online must be held (even in Accepted Articles or Early View) and timed to publish on the same day the press release is issued.
A press release will be drafted,including a quote from the lead researcher, and will sometimes be issued under embargo. This means that journalists will receive the release 48 hours
(sometimes more) before the study publishes, allowing them time to request the paper and write up their stories. However, they’re not allowed to post their stories online before the embargo date.
While a Press officer’s job is to take your scientific paper and highlight its news value to a journalist by means of a press release or a direct pitch, they are also duty bound by a code of ethics to ensure that the data, conclusions and overall message that they take from a piece of research is not biased or exaggerated in any way. As part of a press officer’s job is to help inform public debate, the information that they provide must be accurate.
Five top tips for publicizing your research and working with your press office
1. Be ready to react. Once your study has been accepted for publicity, be prepared to provide a quote for the press release and, once it’s been sent out, be available for interviews (these can often be done by email rather than over the phone). For broadcast interviews your press office can help prepare you and, if necessary, provide media training.
2. Respond quickly. Always reply promptly to requests for interviews or further information from your press office. Journalists are on tight deadlines and will drop the story if they don’t hear back within a few hours.
3. Be visual. If it’s a visual story be sure to provide high quality jpg images to illustrate your research.
4.. Be realistic in your expectations. Don’t be disappointed if any press coverage does not include the name of the journal, title of the study, your name and quote – publicity teams can’t control editorial content or headlines – most journalists will write their own. Most media outlets do report research responsibly and will often include the name of the journal together with links to the study online.
5. Get active on social media! Help to promote your research by tweeting links to any press coverage and retweet tweets put out by your press office.
Listen to this free webinar to learn more about publicizing your research, working with the media and boosting your own profile from Penny Smith, Senior Publicist Wiley and Julia Wilson, Director of Operations, Sense About Science.