What I learned at the BBC
Scientist Johanna Hoog spent two weeks on a placement at the BBC, opening her eyes as to how science gets on TV. Here, she shares her tips on how to get your research featured by the broadcast industry.
Recently, I spent two weeks in the BBC Scotland’s development department, where new ideas for science documentaries are conjured and then researched. I loved this job, because of how it allowed me to see science from a completely different angle.
I was asked to “Please do research into what has happened in the memory science field the past 1.5 years”, or “find out exciting stuff about insect communication”, or “can you write a list of program ideas about the latest science fads before the end of the day?” As I was doing research into these for me novel topics, it became clear to me that if you want your science to be communicated to the masses through the media, write press releases.
We scientists often assume that journalists have no idea about science. We are mistaken. At the BBC, I only met people with degrees in science from great universities, with tremendous broad knowledge of science. The personal assistant of our department had a PhD in physics that she gained from working at CERN. Everybody needs an entry point when you try to penetrate the novel research of a field unknown to you. That’s why press releases are crucial.
Take home message #2: publish in free access journals. BBC journalists do not have access to any scientific journals except for the journal Nature and New Scientist magazine. So, if you want journalists to read your paper and gain a deeper understanding than the press release can give, free access journals is the way forward!
I spent the final two weeks at the BBC in the team that produces ‘Bang Goes the Theory’, a popular science show aimed at families, where I got to do more hands on stuff such as attend filming days and watching the process in the editing room. It was great to see how TV is made, and the extreme care that goes in to staying scientifically correct. I found out what makes a good presenter, and how to select experts to appear on TV.
I also conducted a number of phone interviews with scientists from all over the place, on a wide range of topics. Scientists are not famous for being the best communicators, and one thing I reflected over is the frequent return of media to the scientists they have previously encountered that communicated in an engaging manner. If you feel you can convey a message clearly and succinctly as well as showing your passion for what you do, reach out to media, they want you!
I came out from the internship with a whole new skill set. At the BBC I took ten steps back and really thought about science as a whole, what we do, what do people think about that and why should we care?
Advice for science to media communication:
• Write press releases
• Publish in free access journals
• Share beautiful images or movies to illustrate your science
• Share ideas on how your science could be presented in an engaging way
• Return calls/emails fast, journalists have often moved on to another project a day or two later
• Communicate clearly and succinctly
• You do not have to be a professor, just passionate about your topic
Normally, Johanna is a postdoc and Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow researching the cell biology of a malicious parasite causing African sleeping sickness.
Image Credit: Mr. T in DC on Flickr