How researchers get heard
Abstract lines

Why You Can’t Review a Reporter’s Story

Two reasons, says science communicator (and former reporter) Matt Shipman: 1) it’s unfair to the other sources, and 2) the changes you request after your review might make the story “certainly more obfuscatory.”

Let me translate #2 for you: your review and suggestions are going to make the story worse. Usually much worse.

This statement is surprising, shocking, and/or offensive to many researchers. Isn’t the point of the story to be accurate?

It’s one of the points. Not the only point.

The story must be accurate, and it must also be compelling. And the way researchers think about “accuracy” and the way reporters (and, frankly, good research communicators) think about “compelling” are often in tension. Especially if “compelling” means there are competing points of view represented in a piece, or the piece needs to be short and readable. And especially if “accurate” means an encyclopedic tour through the researcher’s caveats.

You might get to review your quotes for a story. (Decreasingly so, in an age of dwindling fact-checking.) You will not get to review the story. Accurate, uncompelling stories are not part of journalism’s business model. (Nor should they be part of the research comms business model.)

Shipman’s answer to this problem for researchers: get media training to prep for the interview, so you can minimize the chances for error on the part of the journalist.

Media training is a good idea for researchers. “Always be media training,” as Alec Baldwin might have said if “Glengarry Glen Ross” had been about research communication

That training, however, should be part of a larger understanding researchers have about the media: that it is not your mouthpiece of research; that the media has interests that might or might not coincide with yours; and that you should never rely on media as your communication vector.

Researchers should also be building their own audiences for their expertise — audiences with which they have trust and authority. That’s hard work. But you’re building a bulwark with the people you care the most about reaching for the next time a reporter doesn’t get it right.