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Critical friend, or miserable old bat?

March 8th, 2005

Dr Petra

In this week’s Press Gazette, Malcolm Alcock talks about his role on Ipswich’s Evening Star newspaper where he’ll be reflecting on stories, and dealing with reader complaints. Explaining his task he stated ‘my job is not to bash the paper or its journalists. I hope to be a critical friend’.

I’ve always aspired to be a critical friend who completes sex research, shares evidence, and also comments on sex stories as they appear in the press. But the last bit is where the ‘critical’ and ‘friend’ gets tricky.

When journalists call for quotes for their sex features, they’re usually pleasant and it’s enjoyable talking to them. Even in cases where you’re having to explain what they’re after is wrong. So at that stage being both critical and friendly isn’t so hard.

The difficulty comes later. It’s hard to stay friendly and easy to get a lot more critical when you see yourself misquoted, or current evidence passed aside in favour of outdated or incorrect ideas, or under qualified people talking nonsense about sex. At that point, it’s a huge temptation to start bashing the media and journalists.

That worries me. I’ve got access to really useful sex information. I don’t want to lose the chance to share it by coming over more ‘whining old bag’ than ‘critical friend’.

I’m still committed to trying to critically evaluate evidence and share it in as friendly way as I can. In an era of misinformation about sex, it’s vital that we improve relations between journalists and experts so the public get the information they need.

I’d love to hear from anyone – but particularly journalists – about how to provide information on sex that’s accurate and evidence based. What’s important? Being critical? Being friendly? Or a bit of both? And what would really help you – how would you like to be given sex information?

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