Do you think it is a good idea to contact news media to promote one’s own work? If so, do you think it is appropriate to promote a preprint or do you think it should only be done to published work?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this. My work is mostly not the sort of thing even the popular science media would ever be interested in, never mind broader news media. And I’m not even on Twitter, which is where the reporters are. So everything I’m going to say is probably either boringly obvious, or wrong. Sorry; consider yourself warned! 🙂
I guess my first question is, why bother? I mean, what would you accomplish by reaching out to news media that wouldn’t be accomplished as well or better by your institution putting out a press release (which you could help to write)?
I guess if you had a sufficiently high social media profile, that might help you get a foot in the door with some members of the news media? News media members who wouldn’t look at yet another random press release might listen if someone with a sufficiently high profile reached out to them, I guess? Especially if you reached out in ways that help the reporter, not just you. Like, if your research has some direct connection to the news of the day, that seems like the sort of thing a reporter might well find helpful. Or imagine you cultivated a long-term professional relationship with members of the news media, becoming one of their go-to sources for commentary on a range of scientific matters. But of course, steps 1 there is either “establish a sufficiently high social media profile”, or “become a trusted source for members of the news media”. You can’t do those things just by tweeting or blogging about your own research. My thinking here is along the same lines as my thinking about networking at conferences.
Here’s science reporter Ed Yong’s advice for scientists on talking to reporters. His advice is focused on cases in which the reporter approaches the scientist, though some of it seems like it would generalize to cases where the scientist approaches the reporter. Here’s advice from several other top science journalists on how to talk to journalists. Here’s some advice to journalists on how to find good ideas for scientific stories (notice that “wait for random scientists to contact you asking you to write about their work” is not among the suggestions). Here’s another piece with advice to science journalists on how to find ideas for scientific stories. Finally, here’s a good piece from sociologist Kieran Healy on the distinction between “public sociology” and “doing sociology in public”. Much of it generalizes to science, I think. It’s about a broader range of stuff than just “getting your work in the media”, which I think is a good thing.
My view is that some but not all scientists should engage in outreach (which includes media engagement, public talks, K-12 education engagement, etc). Specifically the scientists who want to and are good at it should. The ones who don’t feel the call, needn’t feel like it is the trendy thing to do and can contribute in other ways.
So I guess my first answer to your question is a question. Do you want to engage with the media? If so then go for it.
As for how to engage with the media, there are a lot of people with more experience than I. But in my experience it usually starts with building relationships with reporters. You become an expert in their contact list that they call. It can start with an interaction around a particular paper you wrote. It can start with listing yourself as an expert in the directory that most university media office maintain. In my case it frequently starts with blogging about recent papers.
It is definitely worth getting media training (NSF often sponsors this) if you want to do it. Key points include preparing in advancing and knowing what your key point you want to get across is, learning how to describe your point without technical jargon but with accurate but relatable language or analogies, and researching the reporter in advance so you know what their angle is.
There are times and places where results are so urgent than using a pre-print is appropriate because the urgency outweighs the need for caution. That is happening a lot for epidemiologists and medical researchers. But in my opinion that almost never happens in ecology. Indeed, I think ecology would have been better served if our few preprints on COVID did not get introduced to the media until they had been peer reviewed. The biodiversity crisis, etc are urgent on one level, but not on the time scales that they can’t wait for peer review which is usually measured in a few months.