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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Science, Media, and Autism

At the IMFAR conference in Toronto, one panel discussed how scientists should communicate with the media. The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism reports on remarks by freelance Journalist Karen Weintraub:
Remember: you are a specialist, she is a generalist. Her life is not all about your science, she doesn't have the time to become a complete expert on your science. She appreciates your passion for your work but she doesn't have time to consume it all. Don't expect her to have read all of your papers and books.
...Distinctions between media types

TV News
  • Hard to find experts, e.g., there are no autism TV specialists.
  • Have very little time to come up to speed. Don't expect a lot of thought from TV reporters re: the conversation.
  • TV reporters in particular -- "all went into journalism school because they're not good at math" -- if you throw numbers at them, they can't do anything with them. Maybe one pie chart...
  • Extremely dependent on what you say. They can't fabricate your comments or fill in the gaps. They need to lift your words and put them right in the story. They especially appreciate visual and metaphoric language.
  • Static shots of the lab where you work are not interesting!
  • Also a lot of time pressure. NPR tends to be a bit less stressful re: turnaround, but still high stress. 
  • Requires detailed descriptions -- have to create image in peoples' minds.
  • They need people do be direct.
  • They need pauses in the conversation so they can cut the tape/edit.
  • More likely to find someone who specializes in autism, at least somewhat.
  • Need greater depth and detail, can lift out the parts they need from your interview.
  • Not every sentence has to be quotable, but some. Reports quote personal or visual sentences -- the ones that make the story come alive.
  • Need more sources, will ask you to point to other people -- it helps the reporter do her job.
  • Weintraub interviews differently for USA Today than for Nature, keep this in mind.