Last week I enjoyed the final day of the University of Nottingham’s Circling the Square conference. It was advertised as being for scholars and members of the media – sounding interesting – but there seemed few journalists around.
Please may I guess why?
I’m not a typical science journalist as most of my work is in the camping and caravanning world, but I have a background in physics and an interest in the technical side of things.
Today my main contract is as Test Editor for Camping & Caravanning magazine. Although it’s the world’s largest magazine in its field (with a circulation of more than 250,000 copies per month), it’s still only a tenth of that of the country’s favoured red top. In my two days a week I’m only responsible for tents, caravans and motorhomes, but I still receive dozens of relevant press releases every day. I imagine a Science Editor will receive significantly more.
The reality is most will be deleted after I’ve read the subject line. The majority of the rest go the same way after the first paragraph. I’d love to spend longer investigating the latest 150bhp engine upgrade in a Marquis motorhome or a smart black and grey VW campervan seat cover (just two from today – and it’s Sunday!) but the reality is, if I’m not grabbed immediately there simply isn’t time to go further.
I came to the last day of the conference because I was intrigued by Ruth Dixon’s tweets from the event, but the reality is I could only afford to give up one day anyway. As a freelance journalist time is money. Missing a deadline means no pay – and an irate editor who won’t commission you again.
So to all scientists and social scientists out there who are concerned about ‘dumbing down’, ‘churnalism’ or the ‘spin’ put on your research output by your friendly PR associate – spare a thought for those on the receiving end of the release. A weak story could mean fewer pounds in the bank at the end of the month.
And one final point – if any social scientists would like help to make your writing more comprehensible, please feel free to get in touch using the ‘Contact’ tab at the top of the page!