By Katherine Leitzell, IIASA Science Writer
Earlier this month, IIASA hosted an unusual guest—science journalist, blogger, and educator Andrew Revkin. Revkin is probably best-known for his work at the New York Times and the blog Dot.Earth. He also teaches at Pace University and has recently been involved in sustainability projects such as Future Earth.
At a lunchtime seminar on science communication, Revkin surprised many IIASA scientists by focusing primarily on new media, rather than on old-school models of press releases and interviews with journalists.
The reason? The world of journalism is changing quickly. “The days of a reporter sitting down with a notebook and interviewing you for a story are over,” he said. There are fewer and fewer reporters specializing in science journalism and those who remain in the field have tighter deadlines and more to cover.
The good news is that researchers need not send out a press release and wait for a reporter to call them to share their story. Blogs, social media, and videos provide new channels for communication. Revkin argued that these channels may even form a better platform for communicating complicated, sticky subjects—like much IIASA research—than traditional news stories, which have a tendency to oversimplify information. A blog, in contrast to a news story, can examine a topic from multiple angles over a longer period of time, giving a “prismatic” view of a multifaceted problem.
Yet blogging and engaging on social media take time. How can a researcher fit communication in on top of already substantial workloads?
The answer is that you don’t have to. Not every scientist needs to engage the public all the time, but every institution should have channels and content to do so, and be able to help scientists to tell their stories.
Why bother? Some benefits of communication are clear: Research has shown that scholarly articles shared on twitter end up with more citations, and some journals are even using social media sharing, for example using altmetrics, as a new measure of study impact.
Taking control of communication using new media can also circuitously lead to coverage in traditional media. Journalists around the world use Twitter to research stories and find sources. Revkin explained that when researching his blog posts, he searches for posts by scientists that provide background and explanation. Then he links to these sources. In fact, today Revkin defines his role as more a curator of information than a journalist.
At the same time, by learning to write and communicate in an understandable way for the general public, and practicing this skill, researchers also hone important communication skills that can help them effectively engage with policymakers.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.