Think like a journalist to bring your insights to a broader audience. Editors at Harvard Business Review and The Conversation provide advice.
Let your research have impact beyond academia.
Scholarly insights can contribute to public debate. But, first, your ideas need to enter the public sphere. At the 2018 Sustainability Centres Community Workshop, two journalists advised business sustainability researchers on how to share their expertise via media outlets.
Curt Nickisch is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review (HBR), where he focuses on podcasts and other audio projects. Bryan Keogh is senior editor for business and economy at The Conversation, a global network that helps academics write for a general audience.
An online post at HBR or The Conversation often reaches tens of thousands of readers. And researchers’ perspectives provide vital information, said Keogh. “There’s so much misinformation out there, that I think real experts in academia have a duty to make sure they’re part of the discussion.”
Researchers can share a brief insight on a breaking story. “Reporters really like it when a university communications team sends them information about experts who can comment on something in the news,” said Keogh. Researchers can also offer something more in depth by writing an opinion piece or article (often about 1000 words).
In their presentation, Nickisch and Keogh focused on how to work effectively with journalists. “The more you understand how journalists write or develop a story, the better you’ll be at sharing your information with them,” said Keogh. Working with the media is about building relationships, said Nickisch. “Pitching stuff is about ideas, but there are people who are managing this process.”
Below are some of Keogh’s and Nickisch’s tips, as well as session video and PowerPoints.
Focus your media outreach
Nickisch: First, think about who should hear about your research. If it’s government, you want to reach influential people who are making policy decisions. What are they reading? Target publications that are in that space.
Then, identify a specific journalist at that publication. Who has done articles like this in the past? Is there another connection– are they the same alma mater as the researcher?
Send that person an email directly. If you send a note to the general newsroom email, it’s probably not going to get picked up. We get often a dozen pitches an hour in our general email inbox. But I scan every email I personally receive.
Draw on campus communication offices
Nickisch: A university’s communications office has relationships with journalists, and you want to leverage those. Think about who’s the right person at media relations to be sending your ideas to.
I like dealing with researchers directly, but they don’t always have the time. And if the PR people at your university are successful, and they have good relationships, then I would make friends with them. Some universities have really great publications, or online news online people like us are watching, and we get a lot of stories from that.
Make your “pitch” easy to read
Nickisch: A pitch is what you’re offering to the reporter: the story or insight you’d like to share. Keep it simple and readable in one glance. Here’s an email template:
Subject: Short & sweet
Body: 3 paragraphs, 2-3 sentences each. Use bullet points.
Keogh: Add a headline to your pitch – it’s a good way to crystallize the ideas that you’re thinking about. If you can tell somebody why it matters in 10 words, you are more likely to get a reporter’s or editors’ interest.
Nickisch: Don’t write the actual article in advance – it’s a waste of time if they don’t want it.
Showcase the “story” of your research
Nickisch: There are things that as humans we are naturally interested in. It’s core human stuff that turns our brains on. For example: Characters, drama, intrigue, conflict, injustice, underdogs, surprise, discovery, redemption.
Take your research and look for those attributes. Or, think about: When you go home and talk to your spouse about your research, what do you tell them? What follow-up questions do they ask? These are hints to what a broader audience will find interesting.
A reporter or editor will have these questions: Who is the lead character? What’s the journey? Why should the average person care? How does this topic connect to what’s going on today?
Write effectively — and differently
Keogh: We want something different than a journal article. Andrew Hoffman, a researcher who writes a lot for us, says he has to flip a switch. Whenever he is writing for us, he has to turn off the academic brain — where you put the background first, then details, then you get to the point. With journalism, you first want the bottom line — what’s it all about, so what? Then you get into the detail.