Science Leadership Conference

Psychologists must reach out to the media if they want to raise public awareness of the field, said Jamie Talan, a Newsday science writer, at a Science Leadership Conference session aimed at educating attendees on how to work with the press.

"Unless I get calls from you, I won't know what you do," she said. "You have to let us know what you're doing and why it's important."

Talon suggested that the attendees hone their media outreach skills by plugging their research with their university's news service as well as local reporters before reaching out to national publications.

When psychologists make those calls, they need to explain their research in a way that's interesting to reporters, said former APA President Phil Zimbardo, PhD, the session's moderator.

"Tell a story about your research," he said, adding that the story should hook the reporter by giving the story a twist and violating the reporter's expected outcome.

Psychologists can ensure reporters understand their stories' message by explaining their research in terms of the larger picture rather than focusing on their most recent findings, said The Washington Post reporter Shankar Vedantam.

The speakers also advised psychologists to:

  • Establish relationships with journalists. "The same sources often pop up, which are not always the best sources in the field…because journalists have to file stories on deadline," said Vedantam. By forming relationships with journalists, psychologists can get a sympathetic ear when they have stories to pitch, he said.

  • Speak to your audience. The Post, Vedantam said, is read by senators, janitors and eighth graders. As such, the paper needs to be accessible to a large number of people. Talan advised psychologists to speak in language that all newspaper readers can understand.

  • Focus on your expertise. Psychology has something to say about nearly every subject, Vedantam said. However, too often, psychologists are willing to talk about issues that they have little expertise on. If psychologists refer reporters to a colleague with greater expertise and limit their media outreach to what they know, they will strengthen their relationships with journalists.

  • Be a resource. Avoid trying to direct or shape stories, which is the journalist's job, Vedantam said. Rather, he advised attendees to act as information suppliers.

-Z. Stambor