[ RadSafe ] Radiation Physics for Reporters; Interaction with reporters and science writers

parthasarathy k s ksparth at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Jan 25 05:08:05 CST 2006

Susan Gawarecki,
  Science reporters and science writers attached to print and electronic media are different groups  and as such interaction with them will have to  be different. In India we organised several two to three day workshops for middle level journalists(science writers). In fact, it may not be fair to call them workshops; they were long interaction events. 
  A short lecture by a specialist to be followed by discussions. All topics are covered. The specialist should be totally at ease with the audience and thoroughly knowledgeable.(It is difficult to find such a tribe; we have to develop them!). The sessions conclude with dinner. The transformation in the attitude of the participants is clearly notable. 
  WE could get a few among them to write news stories. They may not always be laudatory; but there will be an effort to understand the different issues involved. These are middel level journalists of some standing. It is difficult to get them interact with professionals for a long enough time.But this could be done with some planning.We used to invite them through their associations
  Normally, during the sessions we take them to a nuclear power station. WE also ensure that they meet the specialists at the highest level. Such interactions continue even later. It is absolutely essential that we must provide credible material to them later.Continuity of interaction is a must. Some persons may come with their own agenda. It may be difficult to convert them.
  Science reporters belonged to a different category. More often, they may not have any formal science qualification other than perhaps a degree in science. They wanted to report different sides of the controversies, insert their prejudices and opinions with some quotes and sound bites. They will be very clever to stitch a good story from out of nothing. They are more difficult to handle if they belong to TV channels. Often they record several minutes of material. Use a few tens of seconds of sound bites from the specialists and add a voice cover which will be so slanted as to shock the specialists who participated in the event!
  In India, we have some young reporters who have to file a story by 3 PM every day, they will come at the venue of meetings, request for interviews and file stories the same day. Such stories will make a very undesirable effect on any one who sees the programme. But it is a professional hazard; one has to face it occasionally.If  we do not participate, they will say that we did not respond to their invitation!
  K.S.Parthasarathy Ph.D
    (formerly, Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board)
  Raja Ramanna Fellow
  Department of Atomic Energy
  Room No 18
  Ground Floor, North Wing
  Vikram Sarabhai Bhavan
  Mumbai 400094
  E-mail ksparth at yahoo.co.uk
  91+22 25555327 (O)
  91+22 25486081 (O)
  91+22 27706048 (R)
  9869016206 (mobile)

Susan Gawarecki <loc at icx.net> wrote:
  Stéphane Jean-François, Eng., CHP wrote:

>They should go back to THEIR OWN TRAINING and remember that they should
>report FACTS. That means that they need to check and cross-check their
>sources. But we all know that happy people have no history and good news
>don't sell.
I've had discussions with a number of reporters about how they handle 
scientific/technical controversies. They don't try to report the 
facts--most of them don't have the training to distinguish what the 
facts are. They report the controversy, and they look for quotes from 
people on both sides of it. They are always interested in getting 
information from a subject-matter expert, so the best thing is to 
develop a working relationship with the reporters in your area and let 
them know you are available to be consulted (and quoted) in your field 
of expertise. 

If you are called, try to respond with pithy sound-bites or quotable 
quotes that have enough substance to support your point. A lengthy 
technical explanation will never be published, and you run the risk of 
having a statement quoted out of context. What is best is if you can 
respond to questions via e-mail - if you write well and can keep it 
brief and to an 8th grade readership level, you may get your entire 
quote published. I've done a good bit of writing for my reporter 
friends this way!

Susan Gawarecki

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