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All coming at once

October 21st, 2005

Dr Petra

Sorry to be a tease. I’m not talking simultaneous orgasm today.

I’m talking about how the media’s a bit like buses. You wait a while for one, then a whole load show up together.

Autumn is a key season for media activity. Unfortunately different media groups don’t seem aware of this – and can’t understand why experts aren’t always easily accessible at this time of year.

Here’s why it’s so busy.

TV companies are pitching ideas for forthcoming shows. They want to get experts on board to support their ventures, provide background information, or perhaps be screen tested. Most want as much information from as many experts as possible and are trawling round by email and phone to get it.

Magazines are busy working on their end 2005/early 2006 editions, so they want tips and pointers about everything from surviving the office party through to New Year resolutions pieces.

Media and journalism students from A level to undergraduate are also working on essays and projects for which they want information.

Scientists or other experts who work with the media can expect their workload to rise dramatically. They can’t miss it, but those getting in touch don’t seem to know about each other’s existence.

TV researchers often assume if you’re in the public eye you’re either desperate to be seen on screen, or are the font of all knowledge about other experts. So they’ll get in touch either to pick your brains or to ask if you can refer them to other scientists/academics. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it were a couple of requests – today I’ve had twenty – asking questions on everything from obesity to problem pets. As a psychologist specialising in sex I don’t know anything about these subjects, and simply keep referring them to the media offices of British Psychological Society, British Sociological Association, British Association or Royal Institution.

I respond to the emails and calls because my job is to try and help communicate science, but I always feel a bit guilty that I’m just passing the researcher on to annoy yet another busy scientist.

Magazines and papers aren’t so demanding, but journalists can feel they’re missing out because they’re competing for attention when normally there’s a space for a chat with them.

Students can be tricky. I want to encourage media and journalism students because they’re our future writers and broadcasters. But I wonder sometimes what they’re being taught, since the requests they make seem to indicate they know little about the world of media. Either they bombard you with hundreds of questions to answer, or they ask you things easily available in wider literature, or they want you to do all their research for them, often on something that isn’t your area.

Those teaching media or journalism students need to teach them the appropriate way to talk to experts, and also make them aware that this time of year is very busy for us – so lengthy demands are unlikely to be met.

Those working in television or PR need to understand we’re under pressure from student requests, regular media work and requests from countless other TV companies.

Magazines and other broadcast media should become aware these other groups of students and TV are requiring support.

And finally everyone needs to remember that for those experts who’re working within academia have all the additional pressures of a new academic year just starting.

It’s not to say don’t get in touch, just to be sure when you do you ask the right person the right question at the right time – and keep it short.

To help, here are some previous blog entries with links to resources that can help…

Journalism students

Journalists and TV researchers

Ten tips for TV researchers

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