Journalists and scientists

I have signed up for a private ‘media training’ course with journalist Margareta Simm. Last week was my first lesson and what an eye-opener this was. Margareta explained shortly how the general view on scientists has changed during the last century and how scientists have moved, in the eyes of the general public, from being some eccentric and almost inapproachable beings, to those who should have all the answers to today’s problems. Clearly, all new on TV or radio now have at least one scientist who explains something or has discovered something. The increased media exposure of science and scientists not only demands science facts, but also an adequate way of expressing oneself in public, a certain dress code and certain behaviour.
I know how scientists look at their research news and how exciting they find their latest research results, but journalists look at the same thing totally different! They ask themselves: Does this really interest the public? How can the story be told in a short, but interesting way? What is the big picture? Where is the link to everyday life? Journalists also assume that being a scientist, one should have a wide knowledge of many things. I guess this is true, but not many of us would probably like to talk about issues that are too far outside of our own research topic. Why? Because we are afraid of being criticized by colleagues who know the subject much better!
I once did an interview about the Indonesian mud volcano for Swedish radio and although I had really read up on the subject and had got all the necessary background information, I felt like stepping on those colleagues’ feet who know the topic by heart. But then again I told myself, come on, you are a geologist and you should have a broad knowledge and should be able to read and filter the literature and tell the story in an understandable way, even though it is not at the centre of your research! I did the interview, it went fairly well, but I still think that a geologist with an in-depth knowledge on volcanoes should have been the one who was interviewed. I have heard colleagues, who are only marginally associated with my field of research, talking on radio or on TV about issues I am well acquainted with– and each time I felt that they had better not said anything. But then – only I probably noticed their mistakes and the audience probably thought that they had spoken very clearly.
But after a few sessions with Margareta I will be prepared to talk about everything, even about stuff that is far from geology!

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