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Science and the Media: A Symbiotic Relationship

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A panel of science and media professionals illustrated the process of communicating science to the general public.

Author: Evelyn Head | Category: Career Development | November 21, 2014

After quick introductions, it was time to get into the nitty-gritty: a mock interview.  Dr. James Lechleiter, a professor of Cellular and Structural Biology, had agreed to be the “guinea pig”. He fielded questions from a panel of media professionals, including Wendy Rigby, former medical reporter for Kens 5, Jennifer Lloyd, former higher education reporter for the San Antonio Express News, and Catherine Duncan, former executive producer of KTSA radio. 

Their questions focused on a story  Wendy Rigby covered involving the N-STORM microscope that the UT Health Science Center obtained in 2011. Initially, they focused on understanding the importance of the microscope through the lens of a scientist. Dr. Lechleiter explained that the N-STORM microscope allowed scientists to observe subcellular and molecular organisms like never before. Its technological capabilities ultimately became an invaluable resource to the study of basic science. The microscope allowed them to enter a new frontier of endless possibilities; a gap of knowledge had finally been filled.

Click  here to watch the video full screen.

Wendy Rigby cited that Dr. Lechleiter was the model interviewee that every media professional hopes to interview. She cited his ability to balance layman explanation with scientific description in order to provide the interviewer with valuable information without talking over their head or making them feel incompetent. Additionally, Jennifer Lloyd explained that having good command of the material will make the interview process easier, and suggested sitting down with a PR representative from your institution to work through potential questions.

Moreover, the media professionals took the time to explain the difference between a reporter’s perspective and a scientist’s perspective in regards to communicating science. Wendy Rigby cited that television reporters must condense your scientific research into a short 60 to 90 second clip for the evening news. That’s why it’s so important to highlight major concepts of your research (the exciting things you tell a friend or a parent) during your interview.

Furthermore, Catherine Duncan expounded on the importance of relating your science to something that people interact with every day. She cited that people care about science, but don’t have the academic knowledge to understand complex ideas. If you break it down in an easy-to-understand way, your story is more likely to be picked up by a media company.

Ultimately, the focus of this workshop was to relay the interdependent relationship between scientists and media professionals. Reporters are always looking for good stories, and scientists are continually making new discoveries. The panelists encouraged attendees to not be afraid of communicating their science. Through media, scientists can spark new dialogue and promote public awareness.

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