Friday, January 18, 2013

SPSP 2013: How to Get Your Message Across

The team at Psych-Your-Mind is at the annual meeting for the Society of Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, LA bringing you the latest news from the conference!

At this morning’s symposium on science in the media called “How to Get Your Message Across,” two public relations experts discussed some of the strategies that researchers can use to be more effective in their communications with the media. I attended this symposium with great interests because my research has gone rogue in the media before, and so I came with the intent of learning something new about the ways to communicate with reporters and journalists.

The first speaker was Lisa Munoz, the public information officer from the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Munoz discussed the fundamental tension between scientists and reporters: Scientists want to discuss the background and the details of the research. In contrast, reporters want to get to the bottom line—what, in particular, the researchers found in their study. From Munoz’s perspective the primary goal of discussions between scientists and reporters is to disseminate research to a broader audience. Thus, Munoz stressed the importance of talking to the press frequently, and looking for opportunities when the press will be particularly receptive to your research (e.g., relationship research close to Valentine’s Day).

The second speaker was Claudia Hammond from the BBC. Hammond provided several tips to facilitate communication between researchers and reporters. Importantly, she stressed the need to “sound human” with reporters, saying “Chat about your research in a way that you would if you were chatting about it with your mum.” Interestingly, Hammond downplayed the competing goals between reporters and scientists saying of reporters, “All they want is for you to say interesting things.”

All of this information was well and good, but I would have liked to hear more about how to prevent your findings from being reported inaccurately. On that topic, Hammond argued for flexibility, saying “Accept a certain level of simplification, but not so much that it’s wrong.” Munoz suggested that losing the details of your research is sometimes inevitable—particularly as a press release spreads to more and more media outlets. When discussing media coverage of a study examining links between Terror Management Theory and well-being, Munoz quipped that “When the story spread to other media outlets, the details were lost.”

All told, I left the symposium with a new perspective on reporters who discuss science in the news. In particular, I am convinced that there is a certain level of wariness that researchers must maintain when talking with the press—so that when inaccuracies come up in reporting, the researchers can head those off. Of course, that level of wariness will vary from researcher to researcher. Excited about discussing your research with the media? 


  1. Thanks very much for coming to the session and for your feedback. We're sorry to hear that you came out of the session feeling less excited about talking with the media. The hope was to give you a better understanding of how press interactions work so that you would feel more comfortable.

    While it is inevitable that some journalists may inaccurately report your work, most of them are genuinely interested in the research and want to share it with others. During the session, we highlighted a few ways scientists can minimize the potential for inaccuracies: taking control of the interview, sticking to talking points, and being upfront about what the research does and does not show. We appreciate your feedback and will cover this issue more at future sessions.

    1. Hi Lisa, Thanks for speaking at this symposium. I think it was a helpful look inside the science to news process from the perspective of the media.

      You're right that the session did cover some ways in which researchers could minimize inaccuracy in reporting. One of the challenges is that I'm not sure exactly how a researcher "takes control of an interview." After all, there isn't any training for that sort of maneuver. I've tried to stick to talking points in interviews before, and I wasn't effective because I was simply too excited to have my research featured in the news! It's not easy, and so I think a certain amount of wariness is healthy when talking to the media.


  2. Yay, I'm here too! Great conference.