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Media Amnesia

June 15th, 2005

Dr Petra

I don’t know if other freelance journalists have noticed, but there seems to be a particular characteristic that magazine and newspaper editors and their assistants have.

Selective amnesia (or in some cases total memory loss).

I don’t know if it’s an essential job characteristic, or just something that evolves over time.

But it can be really annoying.

In my experience if an editor happens to get in touch with you, at that point in time they know who you are. Sometimes they’re even nice to you. I suspect it’s the same for other experts and journalists contacted by editorial staff.

If, however, you get in touch with them, even if it’s something like a day later, they suddenly have no recollection whatsoever who you are, that they’ve ever spoken to you, or that they may have included you in their publication.

In fairness, they have a lot to remember, and probably many names, faces, locations and events, not to mention features, to keep track of. And probably all kinds of oddballs try and get in touch who they’d rather not speak to.

This is also very true of social scientists. You have to juggle contacts from students, colleagues, research participants, journalists and members of the public who want information.

There’s a slight difference in how we handle these contacts.

Social researchers have to remain polite. Even if you don’t know the person who’s calling, or can’t recall their details, then you’re expected to be courteous. You certainly don’t draw attention to the fact you’re not sure who they are.

With editors there seems to be an idea that not only will you not be able to remember anyone, you’ll automatically be rude as well.

Some reactions myself and colleagues have experienced over the last month include:

‘Well I don’t know you, so why are you calling me!’ This was to someone the editor emailed and asked to get in touch.
‘Who did you say you were again? No, I’ve no idea who you are’ This to an expert who’s been quoted in the editor’s magazine virtually every month for the past four years
‘Where are you from? A university? What are you a student or something? A lecturer? Oh can’t you just talk to my PA!’ This to a female scientist who the publication had recently named one of their ‘women of achievement’
‘Is this really important,? I’m very busy you know’. To a medic who the editor had earlier that morning asked if they could send them some health data and call them back to explain it.

Yup, you may be busy, but we’re busy too. If we made time to talk to and be polite with you and your staff, don’t you think this courtesy should be returned?

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