2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 5:05 PM


DOUGHTON, Sandi, The Seattle Times, 1120 John Street, Seattle, WA 98109, sdoughton@seattletimes.com

When a volcano starts steaming or the ground shakes, the news media are the best way to let the public know what's happening and what to expect. People are keenly interested in earthquakes, eruptions and all other forms of geological mayhem. That was evident when Mount St. Helens began stirring last year, and media from all over the world camped out on the mountain for several weeks. The clamor for interviews and information can be overwhelming. It also comes at the very time scientists are busiest with their real work of monitoring and prognosticating.

Understanding what the media need in these situations can make the process easier and more profitable for everyone: The press, scientists and the public.

To successfully work with the news media:

* Understand deadlines. Radio and television reporters sometimes have less than an hour to complete their stories; newspaper reporters may have only a few hours to gather information and write their pieces.

* Provide access to experts. As much as possible, reporters need to get information directly from the scientists who are doing the hands-on work. Regular, frequent briefings are a good way to accomplish this. Make experts available for follow-up questions.

* Speak plainly: Jargon is the language of science, but people outside your field don't speak it. It can also be a source of confusion, when words have different meanings in technical and popular parlance. Speak as if you were addressing a class of freshman, or talking with your Aunt Jane – a college-educated woman who's interested in the natural world, but majored in liberal arts.

* Offer visuals/audios and field trips: Giving the public a glimpse of your work can bring the science alive in a way words never can. For television, pictures are a necessity. They're almost as important for newspapers, and radio reporters need to be able to record the sounds of the scene.

* Share your passion: Science can be an exciting business, especially when a volcano is erupting. Don't make it sound dry as dust. Let the public see what excites you about your job.