Media-Savvy Academics Share their Experiences: New Report Profiles How US Academics View Their Role in Working with the Media

A new report titled “Academic Experts and the Media” has now been released that explores the experiences of American academics when it comes to working with the media is being launched today.  

This report is part of a wider campaign called “Experts in Demand” that is designed to encourage more US faculty members and researchers to embrace media opportunities that benefit reputation, engagement, and bring about commercial demand for expertise.

Produced in partnership with ExpertFile this work is based on interviews with highly media-active US and Canadian academics across a range of universities in North America and beyond.

We’ve looked at a range of issues: the benefits of media coverage, the learning journey and skills needed to cope with media requests and interviews, and the common barriers to faculty engagement with media/

Over the last thirty years I have immersed myself in the world of ‘aca-media’ (what I refer to as the vital juncture of academia and media). I’ve been a journalist, run a university media operation, and (as a consultant) advised more than 100 universities around the world on evolving their media practices and on winning over academics to be more media-engaged and media-prepared.

I spend my days supporting academics, their press office professionals, and journalists – and enabling, wherever I can, a perfect triumvirate that serves all their interests.

By far and away the greatest challenge in this quest comes from the academic community itself.  Faculty are naturally cautious, are being evermore stretched (by teaching, research, managerial and pastoral commitments let alone serving any media requests), and they are often suspicious and sceptical about the media’s (hidden) agenda.

The growth of social media has also provided both an opportunity and a threat as, through these channels, freedom of (academic) expression meets anyone’s ‘right to vent’ freely and head on.

Added to that, in the USA we have the issue of securing tenure – where the wrong step can seriously dent career pathways and long-term security – and a culture where undertaking media interviews isn’t really recognised and rewarded (as appropriate use of time or of the school’s investment).

Against this backdrop, I have been investigating how we can encourage, inspire, support, and incentivise greater numbers of faculty to share their expertise through the media and thereby reach a wider set of constituents with their valuable expertise.

Working with university media teams, I identified and consulted with many media-active faculty members across the USA and with American professors who attract international media interest through their roles in universities outside of the US.

These interviewees cover a wide range of subject areas, types of institutions, and are drawn from a diversity of backgrounds. Many come from prior professional careers such as lawyers, police officers, investment bankers, business leaders, and even journalists.

The top skills that faculty have identified they need when working with the media include:

  • Communications: Making research and perspectives easier to understand with simplicity, clarity and where possible adding specific (colorful) examples.
  • Relatability: The ability to connect your own subject interests and opinions to what matters to people today.
  • Preparation: Anticipating a variety of questions (no matter how remote or left field) and pinning down your messages to three key points that will be short and memorable.
  • Keeping on Track: Ensuring you don’t get pushed “out of your lane” and learning techniques to “self-retune” journalist questions to what you want to talk about.
  • Partnering – learning to work with journalists and not “against them”. Many stressed that you should ensure you set the ground rules in your initial briefing call and explore angles you want to get to talk about (and issue the journalist hadn’t thought about).
  • Affiliations: Ensuring you name your university and make the university citation part of “the deal.”
  • Being Ever Present – Repeat showings and call backs by media (for other work) can reinforce reputation and relevance, so push for more opportunities.

The purpose of this work is to have experts share their media journeys and insights in their own words and to highlight the benefits that can be gained from media involvement with a greater number of US academics.  Clearly there is still much to be done in helping both experts and their organizations.  We look forward to sharing our progress as we formally launch the “Experts in Demand” website and programs together with the University Alliance and other supporters.  

The report is available for download here.  As we conduct further research to explore key challenges and opportunities in this area, we look forward to your feedback.