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Difficult stories in the media

Some stories are more challenging than others to communicate in the media. Here are eight tips for researchers who don't want to stick their heads in the sand when things get stormy.

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There is no one way to handle media contact. No stories or situations are the same. Good advice and a lot of practice will nevertheless make it easier to make it through the storm and be heard.

1. Set clear goals!
What role do you want in the public sphere? How do you want to work to promote your research results and views in public debates? Create a plan for how to reach your goals. Be patient. It may take time to get established as an influential expert in the public sphere.

2. Prepare well
Read the map and learn about the terrain. Who has which views in debates about your field? What do they say and where do they say it? Why do they say it?

Create clear, simple main messages and practice them. Have all the facts and arguments at the ready. Read the Communication division's tips about media contact and about social media. Sign up for media courses when you have the opportunity to do so.

3. Take charge
Don't wait for the journalist to ring you. When do you want to send the press release, about what, and in which channel? You can generally decide yourself. Create an action plan and hold onto your main message. Remember that the journalist is not your opponent. You have a shared goal of getting people interested and engaged in the story.

4. Don't stand alone
Use your research group and other colleagues. Work as a team on the dissemination. We recommend that dissemination and media contact are natural parts of meetings and discussions in research groups. Remember that your family and friends can also provide support or be your interlocutors. 

5. Ask for help
You probably have experienced colleagues – ask them for help and advice. Advisers in the Communication division are happy to help you. You can contact us both before and after you deal with a challenging media story. It's often useful to talk about the experience after the fact and to get motivated to deal with the media again.

6. Don't worry about everything that is being said and written
You don't need to read all the comments! One simple tip is to get a friend or colleague to skim them when things are very stormy. It is important to distinguish between fair and unfair criticism, but pay attention to your own prejudices. Today, the most important debates don't necessarily take place in traditional newspapers, TV or radio. Also pay attention to blogs and social media.

7. Keep calm
It is natural to get angry or upset when encountering a lot of resistance or criticism. Take a time-out when you feel yourself getting worked up! Remember that you are your own worst critic. Politicians and other participants in public debates are usually treated harsher than researchers.

8. Take threats seriously
Notify your immediate supervisor if you find yourself in a situation in which you or your family feel threatened. Threats of violence should of course be reported to the police. You can find more good advice and UiB's guidelines for handling violence and threats in the HSE portal.

This advice has been prepared by the Section for communication advice in the Communication division. The advice was first presented during the "Difficult media cases" breakfast meeting on 29 September 2015.  

If you choose to participate in debates in social media, you can find good advice here.

Do contact us if you have feedback or questions: mediekontakt@uib.no