How great to see our ASC discussion list blooming again with appropriate SciCom discussions.

Pertinent to Toss's comments,  I find with media training that there is also an enormous difference in the attitudes of researchers depending on their age. Scientists of my (ahem! advanced) vintage were warned that dealing with the media would be professional death. Now they are told that not doing so will produce the same fate. Older scientists are often those from whom the negative and prejudiced comments about the media come, and certauinly a great deal of apprehension. 

Post grads, on the other hand, are often nervous about their first encoiunter, but have grown up with TV, often made their own videos, and are far more technically savvy and comfortable with the many forms of electronic communication that surround them. 

I think getting media training into post-grads is the best time. it is certainly valuable for all, but if you can get post-grads to understand how journalists work, the differing requirements of their professions etc etc (it is not rocket science and need not be extensive at this stage), they are generally keen to give it a go (if they have done anything worth reporting) and can avoid the damaging first experience that has so alienated some of their older colleagues.

Dr Rob Morrison
Phone: (08) 8339 3790
Fax: (08)8339 6272

From: [] on behalf of Toss Gascoigne []
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 5:59 AM
To: JCribb
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

Adding to Julian's point, the American Chemical Society told me a few years ago that the average paper they published was read by 5 people …..

But responding to earlier comments: scientists who have some experience of journalists are much more comfortable working with them.

We (me and Jenni M) tested this in a study called Incentives and Impediments to Scientists Communicating through the Media  (published by Sage in 1997).  We asked scientists what they thought about the media in a series of 14 focus groups.  There was also a questionnaire to scientists who had attended one of ten most recent Econnect Media Skills workshops.

The paper gave 7 findings, including number 4:  Scientists who have little or no media experience are more suspicious of the media and its motives than are scientists with media experience.

I reckon this finding from 15 years ago is still current today.

The contact with journalists does not need to be prolonged.  In a separate exercise and another paper some years later, we measured the change in the way scientists thought of journalists over two days: immediately before a media skills workshop, and immediately after.  The test was simple - here's an extract from the paper:

Changing their minds about journalists
Media skills workshop participants in Australia were asked to state their views of journalists.  A sheet with 12 words was distributed at the beginning of the workshop, and participants rated journalists on a one ("stingily agree" to seven ("strongly disagree") score for each word.

At the end of the workshop after they had intensive dealings with five different journalists, they were given an identical (but unmarked) sheet and asked to score the words again.  The sheet contained both positive and negative words:


The views of the same 84 scientists as above were collated, and the 'before' answers compared to the 'after'.  The results show participants changed their views of journalists over the course of the two-day workshop quite markedly, and were much more positive about journalists after meeting them.

Scientists continue to enjoy the media skills workshops Econnect runs.  Part of the day looks at what can go wrong and why, and how it isn't always the fault of the journalist.  Participants learn to minimise the possibility of error by distilling their message into something clear and simple.  They also begin to appreciate that most journalists are interested in getting the clearest and most interesting account of their work into publication.

Things can go wrong and some media does have an agenda, but that's another story ….

Toss Gascoigne


Toss Gascoigne and Associates
56 Vasey Cres

P. 02 6249 7400
M. 0408 704 442
Toss Gascoigne and Associates
56 Vasey Cres

P. 02 6249 7400
M. 0408 704 442
Skype. tossgascoigne

ABN:  31 068 557 522

On 11/12/2012, at 4:25 PM, JCribb wrote:

Again, there seems to be a broad assumption emanating from science (and, alas, some science communicators) that the media are all tarred with the same brush of sensation and wilful distortion.
That’s like assuming all priests are paedophiles, all politicians are corrupt, or all scientists are socially disadvantaged.
Over the years I have observed outstandingly accurate coverage of scientific issues by the many professional, technical and special interest magazines and papers that serve industries, sectors and professions – yet, despite reaching a key target audience that adopts and uses the products of science, this is a component of the media broadly ignored by science, usually on the flimsy pretext that “I don’t do media because the media get it wrong”.
Citing occasions where the media get it wrong serves no useful purpose – any more than listing the number of times science got it wrong. It only entrenches fear and ignorance, and devalues the science itself by ensuring it reaches fewer people and has less beneficial impact.
One aim of our profession is to help the media to get it right – and that includes finding the right media outlets and the right journalists. It includes training scientists in the many useful and simple techniques that minimise the opportunities for a misreport.
Today it has been estimated that one scientific paper in every two is not read by anyone other than those who wrote, reviewed and edited it.
Half the world’s science is going down the toilet because so many scientists are afraid to engage with the wider society via the media.
Julian Cribb FTSE
Julian Cribb & Associates
ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245
Skype: julian.cribb
If you EAT, you should follow:!/ComingFamine
From: [] On Behalf Of Phillip Arena
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 3:20 PM
To: Jenni Metcalfe;
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists


Yes a very interesting topic indeed, but a can of worms nonetheless and firstly, I will apologise if I offend anyone.

I've always had a good relationship with journalists, but this has come about through a mutual understanding and of course it's difficult to generalise as ultimately, there are journalists and there are journalists. Am I incorrect in assuming that journalists do need to 'sell' their stories (I'm avoiding the word 'sensationalism' here)? I have colleagues and friends who are journalists and we do our best to work together, however, from a journalistic point of view, much of my work (in herpetology) has been considered too (let's say) 'boring'. However, more recently (and as we speak) much of work has become very controversial (and therefore, more attractive and easier to 'sell' to the media both locally and internationally).

I can think of countless experiences with journalists, both positive and negative and some that simply reflect the 'way things are'. Here's an experience of the latter, I can remember from back in 1999. 

At this time, our state government proposed a Regional Forest Agreement that many of us (particularly scientists) did not agree with. In our southwest, there was logging and where there was logging, there were protesters. A journalist colleague told me that although I had a clear perspective on things, she was not interested in interviewing me because a) I knew what I was talking about and b) I didn't look like a 'greenie' (which I always have been!). She was more interested in interviewing the 'radical' protesters  who were spiking trees (hammering nails in trees earmarked for logging) and the pro-loggers who were drinking in the local pub and talking about how they were going to "kick the @#$# out of the hippies". She was reiterating the fact that her priority was to sell papers. These comments put things in perspective for me - the more controversial, the better.

Journalists have a job, just as the rest of us and from my experience, I will always value my research much higher than my audience.

As for deliberately distorting stories, it's unfortunate that we're most likely to remember the times when this has happened. For example (sorry, herpetology again!) there was a case of a boy being bitten by his pet python in the USA that was reported by numerous newspapers of different 'calibre'. I used this example many years ago when teaching science communication. Each paper put its own slant to the same story. For example, the most reputable broadsheet reported the boy to have been accidentally bitten by his snake on his face while feeding it; he was treated for a minor scratches etc etc. The other extreme 'tabloid'-like publication reported something like "a boy was savagely attacked by a python ....covered in blood.....almost lost an eye" etc.  At the time, I followed the story up in person and found the who incident to have been very and almost laughably minor.

This is a wonderful teaching tool - find and analyse how a single topic/incident is reported by different media.

So yes, from my experience, I have witnessed both sensationalism and distortion and would I be vehemently incorrect in saying that for many scientists, there is a correlation between the nature of the publication/audience and the creative strokes of the pen?


-----Original Message-----
From: on behalf of Jenni Metcalfe
Sent: Tue 12/11/2012 10:46 AM
Subject: [ASC-list]  FW:  Negative connotations about journalists

What an interesting dialogue...

After training scientists to use the media for more than 20 years ( and after working as a science communicator for more than 23 years now (yep, getting be an old cranky bugger), I would have to say that many scientists I have worked with have found working with journalists a generally very positive experience.

We always have 3 working journalists participate in our workshops (and in the old days of 2-day workshops, we had 5) and the scientists participating invariably cite the journalists involvement in the workshops as the highlight of the workshop.

In our discussions with the journalists, we often ask how important it is for them to 'get it right', and they are invariably affronted by the question... and stress the many ways they do try to get things right, especially with science and technical stories.

Unfortunately, a myth perpetuates about journalists - that they are sensationalist and deliberately distort stories. The interaction that scientists have with journalists in our workshops goes a significant way to proving this myth wrong!


Jenni Metcalfe
Director, Econnect Communication
phone: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866
skype: jenni.metcalfe
PO Box 734 South Brisbane Q 4101
subscribe to Econnect's free monthly e-newsletter:


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Niall Byrne
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:59 AM
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

I think Julian's nailed it.

The ASC was founded by journalists AND communicators. And the ASC hosted the World Conference of Science Journalists. But the number of journalists who are members of the ASC has declined over the years, and not just because of the challenges in the media world.

We, the ASC, should want to engage with and recruit journalists to our membership. So best if we don't treat them with contempt.



Niall Byrne
Creative Director
Science in Public
82 Hudsons Road, Spotswood VIC 3015
PO Box 2076 Spotswood VIC 3015
03 9398 1416, 0417 131 977
Twitter scienceinpublic
Full contact details at

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of JCribb
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 12:19 PM
Subject: [ASC-list] FW: Negative connotations about journalists

Charles et al.

Most scientists in my experience are afraid of the media because they do not understand it, and that is because they seldom read newspapers, magazines, watch commercial TV etc. We all fear the unknown - but it isn't necessarily rational to do so. Overcoming that fear is a fundamental role for science communicators as 95 per cent of society gets >100% of the science it picks up in a lifetime from the media. Not from scientists. Not from the journals.
Not from science teachers.  From the media.

So to pander to scientists' fear of the media is basically to give up on the primary task of science communication.

Let us take the list of complaints of your non-troll linguist:
- was he misquoted because the journalist deliberately wanted to misquote  - or, being a linguist, because he used language that was too highfalutin for the journalist to understand?
- did he give the journalist a plain-language, written summary of his comments - or rely on the accuracy of the journalists memory/shorthand/recording? If no text was provided, then fault for the misquotation lies with the 'expert' for being careless, thoughtless or unprepared.
- did he offer to check his quotes in the story?
- did he bother to find out what the journalist thought the story was about, and so establish his own role in it - which he could then easily have declined if he felt there was a risk of being misrepresented.
- was he selective about which journalists and media he spoke with in the first place? Being unselective about journalists is like being unselective about restaurants - you won't get the same service at a chicken house as you get at a 5-star. Again, is the poor media coverage the result of a lack of forethought and discrimination, and a failure to appreciate the widely varied nature of the media?
- "they change it": this is a classic generalisation by those who hate the media. And like all generalisations it falls way short of the truth. Many media, especially the quality media and industry media, and especially individual journalists who live up to their code of ethics, take pride in trying to be accurate.
- not sure who the 'fact checkers' are, as they broadly don't exist in Australia and are a feature of American journalism. But in any case why would they act dishonestly? Why be cowed by a publisher whose reputation rests on their work? Who are the 'writers' in this scenario? Blaming the Australian media for what happens in America seems a bit unreasonable.

Sure we all have horror stories to relate, but in research we did when I was at CSIRO, we found that 85 per cent of scientists who had never had 'media experiences', dreaded them and were convinced they would go badly wrong, to the detriment of their careers.  When we surveyed scientists who had done a fair bit of media, 85 per cent told us they experience was satisfactory, fine, excellent, reinforcing, helpful etc.

Of those who had had a bad experience, roughly half were inclined to write it off to experience, learn the lessons and develop techniques for avoiding the situation in future. Of the remaining 7%, we should probably never have let them near the media in the first place, as some people just don't get on with it, are gun-shy or don't understand its role in society.

Another issue I encountered at The Australia was that, after I had done all I could to make my story accurate (including checking the copy with the scientists, which I often did) some subeditor or editor may then change it without referring to me. Very embarrassing. This was a problem on that paper at that time - my colleagues on The Age, SMH and AFR, on the other hand, ALWAYS received a call from their subs, if they were going to change or cut their copy. And this is often happening, remember, with deadline minutes away. The point of the tale is to say "don't blame the journalist" - there are usually about 10 other editors who look at and may change his/her copy on its way into the paper. And there are similar flaws in the TV process.
But again, good media make big efforts to get it right.

This is all basic stuff many of us teach in media courses.

Finally, there are over 4000 media in Australia - and they vary enormously from one another. To say things like 'they media always get it wrong' is just plain senseless. There are many, many media (most of which science never uses at all) who will report science accurately, truthfully, interestingly and even re-run the approved science media releases verbatim.
Bagging 'the media' does these people a grave disservice for the work they do in transferring scientific knowledge to society.

The point is, media coverage does not have to be a disaster - and it can be highly valuable in terms of increasing the impact/adoption/uptake or commercialisation of the science. Like most things, it just has to be managed with a bit of insight, knowledge - and experience.

Best regards


Julian Cribb FTSE
Julian Cribb & Associates
ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245
Skype: julian.cribb

If you EAT, you should follow:!/ComingFamine

-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of Charles Willock
Sent: Tuesday, 11 December 2012 11:17 AM
To: Susan Kirk
Cc:; Charles Willock
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Negative connotations about journalists

Hi Susan,

  Its been an interesting week ... and its only Tuesday. 

  Yesterday, I received a message via a heavyweight linguistics
  list with a blistering negative appraisal by someone who is
  (he asserts) regularly poorly treated by journalists,
  producers and the media.

  This wasn't the opinion of a ratbag, stirrer, troll on a half
  baked list, ... this was from one of an elite group of linguists
  at one of the top US universities.

  His appraisal went considerably further than the words you are
  concerned about. 

  While I'm not at liberty to reproduce his mail here, a quick
  summary might be useful.

     o.  he was misquoted
     o.  journalists gathered items to support their own agenda
         dropping key items which didn't
     o.  if the contribution didn't fit their story they
         change it [!!!] to do so
     o.  fact checkers acting dishonestly, cowed by publishers
         supported by writers

  There were negative remarks by others on that list too.

  To my mind, the sentence you quoted does a good job of
  expressing how many scientists think about journalists. 
  Yes, those scientists might well benefit from a better
  understanding of the constraints of the media ...

  ... but adopting a strategy of avoiding, or misrepresenting
  those perspectives would seem to be doing exactly what those
  individuals are concerned/angry about.  Not PR spin, but
  Agenda spin.

  There is a further point.  In advertising, identifying the key
  issue for the reader is an effective (according to testing)
  means of "selection" [ie getting people to read the bulk of your
  advert].  And, that works despite the copywriter's or readers
  feelings of queeziness about an issue.  Eg an advert with a
  headline "Do you have a smelly dog" is likely to attract many
  more readers whose dog smells, than a headline like "Are you
  still friends with your dog" or "Do you love your dog today".

  One possibility is to consider the statement as useful
  feedback and with that as a guide address the underlying

  That way, in the long term, your dog will smell good, your
  communications will be sweet, and everyone will have a joyous
  time of the year.

  Hmmm ...


On Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 08:30:06AM +1000, Susan Kirk wrote:
> "Do you want to be able to deal with the media but too worried about
> them twisting your words or saying something negative about your
> Imagine my surprise to see this headline on the ASC website?
> I'm sure as communication specialists we should be able to find a way
> to rephrase this sentence so that it's more positive of the people
> that support its foundations.
> S
> Susan Kirk   B.comm  freelance Journalist
> Member and Queensland Web Editor -  Australian Science Communicators
> (ASC) Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) & Horticultural
> Media Association (Qld)  (HMAQ)
> tel: +61 7 5478 6761 | mobile: 0423342867 | email:
> |  Skype: susanakirk |
> Tweet: susanakirk
> ³If you don¹t ask the right questions you won¹t get the right
> answers.²
> _______________________________________________
> ASC-list mailing list
> mid=115

      "Creativity and innovation are measured not by what is done,
           but by what could have been done ... but wasn't"

Charles Willock                       
c/- School of Computer Science and Engineering      
University of New South Wales,                 
New South Wales  Australia  2052

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