What can the media do for researchers?
Historically, the relationship between researchers and the mass media has been troubled. According to a 2007 study by the European Commission, many scientists fear that the media may prioritize the publication of what is immediate, controversial and attention-grabbing above what is true, and lament that 10 years of research can be trivialized in a two-line summary in the press. On the opposing side, a poll taken during the UK’s recent EU referendum highlighted the British public’s increasing mistrust of expert opinion in favor of “ordinary people’s common sense”.
At the same time, there is a consensus amongst researchers that communication with the wider public is a vital element of research. But what are the specific benefits of publicizing research through the media, and why should researchers make an effort to overcome barriers to communication and actively promote their findings?
It can increase the impact of research
In order to increase citations of your article, it needs to be seen by the right people. Although press is often thought of as a medium that brings research to the general, non-specialist public, it can also be a useful tool for getting your ideas heard by other researchers. Press activities can be centered on specialist and subject-specific publications, which are targeted primarily at those working within the industry. For example, the New Scientist boasts a weekly global audience of over three million “intelligent and highly engaged” individuals.
It can help lead to a change in practice
In the medical profession, much research ultimately aims to inform policy and practice. An article in PLoS One (2014) acknowledges that the media can make a significant contribution to this goal, stating “…news coverage of medical research is followed closely by many Americans and affects the practice of medicine and influence of scientific research”. Furthermore, a guide from the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence lists “unawareness of, and lack of familiarity with the latest evidence-based guidance” as a major barrier to change in practice. The media’s wide-reaching nature, but also its potential for specialized targeting makes it a powerful tool to combat this barrier.
It provides a channel for researchers to give back to society
Taylor & Francis’ recent white paper, “Peer Review in 2015: a Global View”, lists researchers’ top motivation for publishing in a peer reviewed journal as “making a contribution to the field and sharing results”. The more extensive the “sharing”, the greater the “contribution” can be. In the case of publicly funded research, media coverage provides a key channel to inform taxpayers of the results of research they indirectly support. As we watch researchers in the UK jostling for a seat at the table in post-Brexit debates, it is clear that the importance that the public attributes to research should not be underestimated. The media can help the public understand how they benefit personally from research and thus ensure it remains on the agenda of governments worldwide.
It supports the positive perception of research and attracts young people to individual fields
A large part of researchers’ anxiety in dealings with the press can perhaps be put down to fears that the media may inaccurately represent complex findings. The inaccurate and contradictory nature of these reports, in turn, may negatively impact the reputation of research in society. However, contrary to what one might expect, a study from The SOM (Society Opinion Media) Institute at the University of Gothenburg in 2014 shows a strong correlation between media consumption and confidence in science and scientists. It states that, “regular readers of a morning paper–who read it at least three days per week–have more confidence in science and scientists than those who do not read a morning paper on a regular basis”. Although there may be various contributing factors, one interpretation is that reading science reports can positively impact the public perception of scientists.
The positive perception of science, in turn, could have a knock-on effect in terms of attracting people into the industry, a key motivator for science communication given in the previously mentioned European Commission study.
It may support researchers’ bids for future funding
The benefits of media coverage can be tangible, and even financial. Even back in 2007, a report from the European Commission stated; “It is no longer possible to ignore the public. If science is not successful in reaching the general audiences, it is unlikely that it will find the support and resources it needs to continue to develop.” In other words, funders could be influenced by the “media profile” of the researcher when considering an application. The ripple effect that media coverage can have on generating support for future funding was often cited as a key motivator for science communications by those surveyed during the study.
It is an external acknowledgement of individual and institutional achievements
As well as making a contribution to society, gaining media coverage for your research gives you a platform the give back to your sponsor or funding institution by raising their public profile. Universities are as keen for their institution’s research to make an impact as their researchers are and have their own challenging targets to reach in these areas. Therefore, any boost to their brand or reputation is highly appreciated, and could help you to consolidate working relationships in the process.
What can you do to promote your article?
At Taylor & Francis, we aim to work closely with our authors and journal editors to ensure that cutting-edge research achieves the maximum possible impact in the media.
If you are the author of an article that is being published in a Taylor & Francis or Routledge journal, and you think that your research fulfills one or more of the news criteria above, you can nominate it using our Press Nomination Form. The best time to do this is after your article has been through peer review, before it publishes online.
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