Peter Campbell, Public Information Officer

Peter Campbell, Public Information Officer. Image Credit: AMC/Lionsgate

Well, I never thought I’d be quoting Pete Campbell on anything, let alone in a panel on science communications.

I am, of course, referring to one Peter Campbell, the whiny rat of a character on the television show Mad Men on AMC, played by actor Vincent Kartheiser. Pete is the smarmy, hotshot account executive of the show’s fictional advertising agency, and to be fair, the character is growing (painfully).

In the episode “At the Codfish Ball” the other week, Pete found himself having to explain his job to a doubting academic. The exchange*, at a black tie dinner, went like this:

Pete:  “… so I manage those accounts.”

Dr. Calvet: “But I don’t understand. What do you do everyday.”

Pete: “Well what do you do? You’re a scholar and an intellectual, right?”

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WTF Workshop: Social Media for the Academic Professional (2/2)

It’s not as confusing as it seems.

I’m most grateful to be invited by Sacramento City College for a guest presentation this Thursday, March 24. This post and the previous will be my presentation notes and handout.

Tools We’ll Demo Today

Examples of how people have used blogs for work and fun:

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Communicating Science Through Context

On Wednesday, I had the generous invitation to visit a University of California-Davis graduate student seminar, “Translating Research Beyond Academia: Communication Strategies”.

Professors Knudson and Gutstein graciously gave me the better part of an hour to discuss with students the communication lessons that I’ve found useful in my career so far. Here’s an adapted excerpt from my handout:

Why Communicate Science to the Lay Public?

Publishing your findings is one thing, but it’s just as important to clearly and effectively convey the significance of your research to your dean, a reporter, a senator or a stranger at a party. Simply put, the more people who know the implications of your research, the more opportunities may come for collaboration, funding, influencing public policy and improving societal awareness of science.

“Provide the Implications of Research”

The sixth bullet point in Liz Buckley’s piece (Ed. note: Buckley’s piece was the assigned reading from the instructors: is a crucial one to effectively communicating science. But it’s not that journalists don’t want to report science for science’s sake — journalists prefer to report news that they think will matter to their immediate audience. This is both a public service decision and a business decision. Thus, if a journalist can’t see why his/her audience might care about your research, he/she will likely not report on it.

So you must build a contextual bridge between your work and our society. Take up these two mantras:

  1. Think Hyperlocally:  People care about where they live and places they like to go. So always emphasize where you conduct your research, or what implications your research has on a local area. But focus on the city/county/landmark scale — hence “hyperlocal” thinking. (Addendum 10/17: Or, when speaking with a reporter for a particular city/market, use a locale from that city as a context for explaining your research. Such as, “For example, everyone living in the XXXXX borough would be in danger of flooding according to this new model.”)
  2. Relate to the Other:  People care about their family legacy, job security, personal freedoms and health. So force yourself to examine societal issues from someone else’s viewpoint. Learn why someone might feel threatened or passionate about a particular topic (e.g. climate change, fisheries quotas, new medical therapies). You may not agree with their opinion, but learning how they arrived at their perspective will help you build that contextual bridge.

Ideas and Tips for Improving Science Communications Skills

  • Learn to write a 1-page briefing memo (single sheet, front-side only)
  • Get to know the public information officer (PIO) at your college/org and be helpful to them
  • Get exposed to social media, especially Twitter, Facebook and blogging tools
  • Read newspapers and local newsletters
  • Step back and examine how and where you get your news everyday
  • Think about why you like your favorite news website/magazine/paper/TV show
  • Ask a parent or non-scientist friend how they find out about science news
  • Talk with people from different walks of life/generations/disciplines
  • Practice. Write and talk about your interests as often as possible!

A ‘Lowprofit’ Future for Science Journalism?

Investigative journalism is essentially a public good, argues Jay Hamilton, a Duke University media professor. Private citizens pay little to nothing to read news online, while gaining all the benefits reaped from the improved government policy or environmental cleanup resulting from the big break.

Great for the public, bad for the news publisher that spent thousands of dollars in reporter salaries (and potentially lawyer fees). Thus the decline of local investigatory journalism.

To this, Hamilton and other scholars have suggested running newspapers as nonprofits (see also here and here).  Hamilton, who is the director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, was featured on Duke’s “Online Office Hours” webinar series this past Friday.

During the live Q&A, Hamilton also mentioned the “lowprofit” business model of forming low-profit limited liability corporations, or L3C for short. I was intrigued.

Science journalism is suffering the same, if not worse, extinction trends.  The impact of quality science news — connecting citizens to their local natural phenomena, improved purchasing decisions through increased science literacy — are more subtle and more easily dismissed as expendable. One way to keep reporters paid and science coverage alive, then, might be to create a L3C science news service funded by investors kind to the science outreach mission.

But if a L3C model is used for investigatory or specialty journalism such as science news, how can conflict of interest issues be avoided, with regards to funding sources?

I posed this dilemma to Hamilton.  My question appears at the 34:33 mark:


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