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‘Media appearances are less scary than you might think’: Researchers share their top tips

As a researcher, it can be fun and useful to talk to the media about your work. But on what terms should you agree to do an interview or appear on a talk show? And how do you tell an engaging story? The Media Guide for Researchers is here to help. Three colleagues share their top tips.

Rachel Plak, Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurodevelopmental Sciences

‘I think media appearances are a really important way of engaging with society. As researchers, we aren’t outside society but are in its very midst. Being involved in the community is also important for my own research into children with autism.

‘Don’t be afraid to be businesslike and take charge’

‘If you ask me, good preparation is crucial to media appearances. The main thing is to be prepared to take charge and ask questions such as: What is the tone of the item? How much depth can I go into? Can you tell me in advance what areas will be covered? Is there room for my own suggestions? Don’t be afraid to be businesslike and discuss your terms before agreeing to anything. You can also show initiative and ask if you can discuss the topic together with someone else. For me, it works well to work with experts by experience. And above all be honest during your appearance if you don’t have expertise in something. Then you show you are someone who is trying to figure out how the world works, and that is something other people can relate to.

‘Language can evoke reactions in people, so it’s important to pay close attention to that when appearing in the media. I myself alternate between ‘person with autism’ and ‘autistic person’, for example, because research has shown that people’s preferences vary. And I always explain why I do so, which people appreciate.’

Maria Gabriela Palacio Ludeña, Assistant Professor Development Studies

‘The fact that I am an international researcher and do not speak Dutch fluently has not hindered my media appearances so far. On Nieuwsuur I could simply tell my story in English. I was even interviewed in Spanish for RTL Nieuws and De Volkskrant.

‘Make your main message clear in advance’

‘As scholars, I feel that we have a duty and responsibility to involve society in the work that we do. We cannot sit around and wait for our journal articles to have an impact on public opinion. At the same time, it is difficult to maintain full control over your story during a media appearance: you do not always know which quotes will be used from an interview and in what context. So before deciding whether or not to accept a press request, I find it helpful to do some background research on the specific media outlet and its level of reporting. I also explicitly state in advance to the editorial team what my most important message is. And if a question is asked in a suggestive way or is outside my expertise, I won’t answer it.

‘A final tip: be sure to arrange security clearance in advance for recordings in university buildings. When a camera crew arrived for me at Campus The Hague, the security guards did not allow them inside. We had to conduct the interview outside, which went well, until a group of tourists interfered with the conversation. Let me put it this way: it was an interesting experience!’

Gerrit Dusseldorp, Associate Professor of Archaeology

‘Media appearances can be great fun – and are often less scary than you might think. My first radio appearance was when I had just received my PhD and I found it quite daunting to go to the studio in Hilversum. But the good thing is that you only see the interviewer during the interview and not all the people who are listening. I now get more nervous about lectures in full rooms than radio interviews.

‘You can say no if a media appearance doesn’t suit you’

‘It helps to agree on your terms beforehand. I always want to read articles in which I’m quoted before they are published, for instance. With media appearances, it can be good to go through the questions beforehand or do multiple takes if you’re not satisfied. And above all don’t be afraid to say no if a media appearance doesn’t suit you or doesn’t feel right. I was once invited to talk to a group of detectorists for a current affairs programme but didn’t fancy that at all. And sometimes a request just doesn’t fit your schedule. A radio interview at four in the morning, for instance, which isn’t even about your own research. If you do commit, you can easily find yourself spending half a day on the phone with editors and researchers. I recently had a camera crew over for a single line in the news about Ötzi, the ice mummy. But if a study is really interesting and you do have time, that kind of thing can still be worthwhile.

‘One last point: make sure that your contact details on the university website are up to date, especially your phone number because that is how most journalists will contact you. The news can never wait.’

Need more tips? Check the Media Guide for Researchers!

Leiden University appreciates it if you as a researcher take the time every now and then to explain your work to a wider audience. This could be in a radio or TV appearance, an interview in a newspaper or magazine, or a contribution to a vlog or podcast. To help you with such media appearances, we have a Media Guide for Researchers. The guide offers practical tips and advice on working with journalists or preparing for a media appearance. It also lists whom to contact at the university for advice or extra training.

Text: Evelien Flink
Banner: Sam McGhee via Unsplash

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