Information officers, caught between the science community and the journalistic community, need to promote true transparency in their organisations if they are to achieve the positive media coverage they desire.
“Science organisations have to be transparent, accessible and rapid in response,” William Kearney, director of media relations at the US National Academy of Sciences told a session on ‘How information professionals communicate big stories’.
“Meetings should be conducted in such a way that gives access to information, and that information should be open to public comment – and answers to public and media queries should be posted online,” he told me.
“Transparency builds credibility, reputation and trust, which then gives the science organisations a guaranteed place in the news and makes job of the information officers easy to a great extent.”
But Roseanne Diab from the Academy of Science of South Africa said that just being transparent is not enough.
She described a recent study by her organisation which called for a five-fold increase in PhD students in South Africa.
Hostile media remarks included: “Bill Gates dropped out of university but is now the richest man in the world. This proves that a university degree is of little value in improving one’s lot”; “Why all this interest in PhDs – it is far more important that SA addresses the quality of its school education.”; “A PhD is a waste of time unless you want a job at a university”.
Diab said the academy turned this round with a good media approach. Presentations were kept short and snappy, panelists interviewed on radio and TV were briefed beforehand, and journalists were targeted individually.
The result? People were convinced. Funding for PhD candidates has been increased, 53 new research chairs were announced in 2011 and a National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) was tasked with developing implementation plan.
A. A. Khan, SciDev.Net contributor in Pakistan