How to Get Mainstream Press Coverage for Scientific Research
Does the general public know about the scientific research you’re conducting? If your findings aren’t getting any coverage in the mainstream news, the answer is probably not.
Why should scientists be interested in getting coverage of their research in the mainstream press? In addition to letting people know about scientific advancements that could have important implications for humanity, there are personal advantages as well.
In a survey of epidemiologists and stem cell researchers worldwide, about half said media exposure of their research helped them advance their careers, and 40% said they expected it to enhance peer recognition.
While getting research covered in specialized, non-academic publications like Science Magazine and Nature is a good start, those publications do not have the exposure of general news outlets such as newspapers, general interest magazines, online news outlets, and television news programs.
According to a 2017 poll by Pew Research Center, 54% of Americans rely on general news outlets for their science news rather than specialized sources like museums, science publications, or science-related programs on TV or online.
Getting the mainstream press to cover science news that is often highly technical and difficult to explain to the layperson is always a challenge, but a recent study found there is a pattern to what scientific research gets press coverage and what doesn’t.
Researchers at Northeastern University reviewed more than 91,000 scientific papers published in 2016 to determine what factors contribute to whether scientific research is covered by mainstream media outlets.
Their findings showed that the media is more likely to report on scientific research on topics that are frequently in the news, including personal health and climate change. Other, less well-understood categories, such as cell biology, get significantly less press coverage.
The bias toward certain scientific subjects makes sense, because the media is more likely to publish articles on scientific topics that people understand.
Regardless of topic, the study found that the single biggest factor that determines whether science news gets picked up by the mainstream press is whether the research has been publicized with a press release.
“There is significant demand among the general public for scientific news, but the original journal articles are written for an academic audience and not for the average person,” said Renata Nyul, vice president for communications at Northeastern University.
According to the Pew poll, the main complaints about science coverage by the mainstream news are that reporters are too quick to report findings that may not hold up, and that they oversimplify scientific research results. Complaints about consumers of mainstream news include that the public doesn’t know enough about science to understand findings in the news, and that people jump to conclusions about how to apply new findings to their lives.
To combat some of those issues, Nyul said university communications offices should translate the highly technical information published in scientific journals into “stories” or press releases to help reporters understand the implications of the research and see its news value.
For more information on writing a press release about scientific research, consult the following resources:
- Press Release Guidelines for Scientists, from Hubble/ESA
- How to Write a Successful Press Release, from the Science Communication EuroScience workgroup
- Seven Guidelines for Making a Newsworthy Science Press Release, from Science Communication Media
- Press Release as a Way to Disseminate Research Results, from the National Institute for Health Research