3J. Getting media attention for research – targeting radio and television
Television and radio are powerful communication platforms that reach many millions of people in Africa. To get your science news onto television and radio, you need experts who are articulate and willing to engage with broadcast journalists.
Radio interviews can be fairly quick – and can often be done telephonically from the researchers’ home or office. Television interviews, on the other hand, can take a considerable amount of time and can be fairly disruptive.
Radio and television interviews, especially if they are going to be recorded live, require thorough preparation. These interviews are typically very short. The research communicator can play a critical role by ensuring that scientists prepare key messages and think of striking metaphors and analogies before the interview.
Radio is a very personal medium, addressing listeners one on one, and is therefore best suited to an informal, conversational style of interview. Radio thrives on the imagination of the listener. When listening to radio, people create their own images in their heads, which is why it is often said that radio has the best pictures.
Good television has some action and emotion. Therefore television cameras require moving pictures and dramatic images. Work with the relevant researchers, in advance, to prepare interesting ideas for filming. Do not place anything that must be filmed (people or props) in front of a strong light source (such as from a window).
A few practical tips for radio and television
Think of the languages that different stations may require. A scientist that can be interviewed Swahili, Arabic or French could widen your coverage significantly.
When you invite broadcast journalists to an event, make sure you allocate a quiet place to record interviews.
When scientists go into a television studio, remind them to take interesting props along. For example, a researcher being interviewed about malaria, may have models of the parasite or maps showing the distribution of malaria in a particular region.
Provide the producer of a television show with high-resolution visuals in advance, for example a close-up of a mosquito, so that they can insert this during the interview. (Some radio stations will also welcome good visuals to illustrate stories that they carry on their web sites.)
Download interviews that are available online and use these to continue to promote a piece of research (for example via your organisation’s website).
A few practical tips for scientists preparing for a broadcast interview, from Shirona Patel, communication manager at the University of the Witwatersrand
Before the interview
Prepare your key messages thoroughly
Think about quotes, stories and interesting anecdotes to bring your research to life
Ensure that you know what your first sentence will be
During the interview
Relax, and breathe
Maintain eye contact
Don’t fidget – keep your hands visible
Stay confident (remember, you are the expert)
Wear appropriate clothes for television (no ‘loud’ stripes, spots or continuous lines that can distort on camera; and no white, shiny or heavily textured clothing)
Keep jewellery to a minimum
Be conscious of the camera, but look at the interviewer
Remember you are always potentially on camera
Refer to notes only for complex figures or quotations
Don’t move your chair or fidget by rustling papers or touching your microphone
A comprehensive guide from “Sense about Science” helping scientists to make the best of media opportunities:
The best way for researchers to gain confidence and skills in media interviews is to get practical experience. They usually enjoy (and appreciate) the opportunity to participate in mock (practice) interviews with working journalists. It works well to record short radio and television interviews as part of a media skills workshop (2 – 3 minutes each) and play these back for review and discussion. Make sure that both parties know and agree that this is a ‘safe space’. This means that the journalist will not use or broadcast any material from the training without checking with the scientist first. Also, make sure that the feedback from the journalist (and other workshop participants) is constructive and encouraging.