Connecting researchers and the media: Easy as A, B and C?

L to R - Gerd Shonwalder (IDRC Canada), Faye Reagon (HSRC South Africa), Nalaka Gunawardene, Ann Waters-Bayer (ETC Netherlands) & Eliya Zulu (AIDP, Kenya)

What needs to be done to improve connections between researchers and the media?

This was the first of three questions posed to me as a panel member during the International workshop on Improving the impact of development research through better communication and uptake, held at the Institute of Civil Engineers, London, UK, on 29 and 30 November 2010.

The workshop, organised by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Government Aid Programme (AusAid), brought together close to 100 research managers, science communicators and development donors from all regions of the world.

As always, I spoke from a practitioner’s perspective. Our panel was asked to discuss ‘different ways of making the links between research, policy and practice’. Each panel member was allowed 5 – 6 minutes of speaking time, with no PowerPoint or other visual aids.

I started off by flagging two fairly self-evident yet important points:
• Media is a PLURAL – there is no single recipe that works for all media because it is such a diverse sector!
• Media is only a SUB-SET of a wider process of communicating for social change.

Within this, there is always room for improvement! As a science journalist, I am a ‘critical cheerleader’ of researchers and their institutes. From that point of view, there are 3 elements that we need more of.
I call them A, B and C.

A is for Access: Today, 24/7 news cycles dominate the media landscape. That means, more often than not, journalists need quick and easy access to researchers, and rapid (or ‘live’) responses to breaking stories. Ideally, journalists want to talk to the researchers themselves, and not PR people or administrators within research institutes or universities.

B is for Bridges: To enable good access, we need strong and reliable links between researchers and the media. That can take many forms. They may be physical or virtual – including events, online platforms, and other activities. I see them as ‘Intersections’ where research, media and policy communities come together. These help share information, but also nurture trust –- that precious and rare virtue!

C is for Credibility: We’ve already heard how critical this element is to all our work as researchers and journalists. Credibility is something hard to earn, easy to lose. We can’t buy it – but good, long-term investments in people can help consolidate it.

I argued that these A, B and C can certainly help improve connections between researchers and the media, and ultimately, with the wider public.

London workshop panel, 29 Nov 2010

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