Engaging with the Media as an Academic
Sharing your expertise on television, the radio and in print can be a highly effective way of increasing the impact of your research. It can also be very daunting. Kathryn Simpson draws on her vast and varied experience to give her top tips for effective media engagement.
Engaging with the media can be a daunting experience. Yet, communicating your research to the media can be a highly effective method of increasing the impact of your research expertise, not only within your field of research but to the widest possible audience: the general public. This benefits society, informs policy, encourages accurate reporting by journalists, connects public communities, raises awareness and can inspire future generations.
However, such high-profile communication is not always straightforward and can be a time-consuming challenge.
My own experience engaging and communicating my research with the media has been a positive one – and has varied substantially; from writing op-eds and blogs to interviews on both radio and television, nationally and internationally. Interviews I have given have been wide-ranging from fact-checking exercises, explaining key issues, predicting and forecasting, audience Q&A and ‘presenters friend roles’ (when you are in conversation on a given topic).
Feeling comfortable and confident in the analysis you provide is absolutely crucial. I always have a key phrase and two to three key words pre-prepared which helps to focus and deliver my argument in the most concise, clear and accessible way.
After interviews, I always ask for feedback – which most producers will give to you verbally – this not only gives you a confidence boost but also allows you to build on your expertise as an effective communicator. I always watch or listen back to interviews I deliver; as excruciatingly awkward as it can be to watch yourself in action, it is extremely important in order to improve.
There have of course been disappointments. These have included a politician personally attacking me live on air and online trolling of my analysis, physical appearance and mannerisms. It can be hurtful, upsetting and confidence crushing. But this is a minority of individuals and you should not let it deter you from engaging with the media. It’s perhaps no more disheartening, distressing and maddening than an unfavourable review from an anonymous reviewer of the journal article you have worked so hard on. You still continue to work on said journal article until it gets published – the same approach should be taken when engaging with the media.
Ten Top Tips for Engaging with the Media
- Be Strategic – What do you want to share? Why do you want to share it? And what do you want to achieve?
- Take Advice – Speak to your university Press Office, as well as other academics who engage with the media about their experiences and what is expected from academics
- Don’t Expect Journalists to Share your Agenda – Your 4* REF returnable journal article may be great for you, not necessarily for journalists. What is it about that research that a public audience is interested in?
- Do Your Research – Take initiative, contact journalists in your area of expertise (for example, follow on Twitter, LinkedIn or send an email)
- Have a Clear Message and Deliver it in Plain English – Use short sentences and words. Keep it simple, plain and direct
- Be Interesting – ‘Surprise’ journalists with your knowledge; it may be common knowledge to you but not to the wider public
- Consider the Time Factor – Be topical. Try and match what’s timely for you with what’s timely for them
- Stay in your Comfort Zone – YOU are the expert; don’t comment on something for the sake of it. Take baby steps
- Remember Journalists/Producers are Human – Thank them. This is how you build your contacts
- Respect your time – Learn to say no. Public engagement is rewarding but it’s not your full-time job
Next Steps for you to Take
- I strongly encourage academics of all levels to consider media training. It can be an important lesson in communication, even if you decide that public engagement is not for you. Many research projects integrate media training within them – ensure you take advantage of this opportunity. In addition, many university Press Offices’ also run media training sessions – sign up!
- Even if you have been at your institution for some time, contact the Press Office and make them aware of your expertise and ability to engage with the media
- Communicate your research via social media in particular Twitter and LinkedIn. Consider using images of your research too, for example a graph, chart, or table of interesting research findings – using a photo can triple the rate of retweets
- Listen or watch the media outlets you would like your research to feature. This will help you determine what producers/journalists are looking for as well as the stories they over
- Write blogs – blogging is a fantastic way of communicating your research and there are some excellent academic blog platforms which are often looking for contributions. For example, UACES’s Ideas on Europe, The Conversation and the UK in a Changing Europe
- Above all, enjoy it! If you don’t enjoy engaging with the media then don’t force yourself to do so
The need to effectively communicate EU-related research on a wide variety of issues (such as public opinion, security, gender, immigration, the environment, European integration and EU institutions, as well as broader fields such as politics, law, economics and history) has never been more pertinent. The wide variety of developments that pertain to the multifaceted nature of Brexit requires our expertise more than ever. And this level of expertise will continue to be needed once the UK leaves the EU.
As European Studies scholars, and as a discipline, our time is now.
About the author
Dr Kathryn Simpson is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Political Economy and Director of Communications and Impact for the Future Economies Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is the Lead Academic Commentator on Brexit for BBC Breakfast – the UK’s most popular breakfast news programme. Through her media engagement her research has reached a total audience to date of over 52 million people both nationally and internationally.
This article arose from Kathryn Simpson’s talk at the UACES Doctoral Training Academy 2018. If you’re a postgraduate or early-career scholar researching issues related to Europe or the EU, join us for future events and activities.