How to Be an Ally to Professional Communicators: Working with Journalists

By Dana D'Amico

In my last post, I introduced a few ways that the plant science community might look to storytelling and literature for outreach. Here, I’ll present some practical tips for working with science Anonymous-Newspaperwriters, as corroborated by working journalists at the Plant Biology 2015 “Standing Up For Science” workshop in Minneapolis (and for more on this workship see this by Eric Hamilton):

  1.  Anticipate the needs of the journalist by making yourself reasonably available once you have agreed to contribute to a piece. Respond to additional questions before the article’s deadline. If the press embargo on your publication is about to expire, be easily reachable for fielding questions in time for the story to run.
  2.  Aim to be a “supersource” –clear, responsive, reliable, prompt, generative of related ideas in conversation.
  3. Do not request to see the finished product before press (this goes against common journalistic policy), but do feel free to inquire about what the journalist will do to ensure accuracy. If you are worried about the misreporting of a controversial issue such as GM foods, take care to speak only to verified or trusted reporters whose work you have browsed online.
  4. Be aware of the pros and cons of different communication media. For example: television journalism tends to package stories into bite-size segments that could mislead through oversimplification or sensationalization. But television news represents a major source of information for many consumers (second after the internet) and could therefore bring your ideas to a much larger audience than a print piece.
  5. If you do wish to correct a critical or erring piece after publication, do so by offering a printable counterpoint, avoiding aggression and the assumption that the reporter acted maliciously (remember, for example, if a headline is misleading that writers do not pen their own headlines). This will increase the reporter’s chances of working with you to fix the error through a follow-up piece. But do seek a follow-up wherever possible; consumer studies suggest that for every piece of so-called “bad news”, it takes 5 pieces of neutralizing “good news” to counteract the damage in public perception (2014 CFI Consumer Trust Research Report).
  6. Expand your horizons within the community. Familiarize yourself with communication specialists in your area and their audiences; that is, become a part of a community other than your own. If no one approaches you, approach them. This includes journalists, science writers, community event organizers, and visual artists who might be interested in collaborating. Outreach is useless if information is constantly circulated within a closed system of like-minded people. You can reach new people and their larger networks by expanding your reach a bit at a time.
  7. If nothing else, when you do come across an excellent piece of science journalism, share it! In doing so, you promote high standards for science communication and reward the best efforts.

Dana D’Amico is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Minnesota. She earned her B.S. at Allegheny College studying plant biology and genetics, and her writing blends scientific research with cultural, historical, and personal narratives. Her newest work is forthcoming in The Pinch Journal online. Find her on Twitter @damico_dana





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