Education researchers should not be afraid to discuss their tentative research findings, said journalists on this morning’s AERA panel discussion. Speaking to a group of about 30 educators and communicators who wanted to lean more about communicating with journalists working in electronic media were
Alexander Russo, who blogs at This Week in Education and District 299: The Chicago Schools Blog
Andrew Rotherham, who blogs at Eduwonk and serves on the Virginia Board of Education
Jennifer Medina, New York Times education reporter, and
Richard Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute at Teachers College Columbia University and who blogs at EarlyStories.
The session was sponsored by the Communication and Outreach committee of the American Educational Research Association.
Education researchers and communicators need to know what education stories are hot topics and be ready to have information to add to discussions of hot topics, they said.
Among Colvin’s points: Researchers should consider writing executive summaries of their recent research go be prepared for talking with reporters.
Remember that, while reporters are trained to respect the authority inherent in peer-reviewed research, they work on tight deadlines and need information now. They can’t wait for years for your work to be peer reviewed and published. So don’t be afraid to talk about work in progress.
The New York Times’s Jenny Medina said she reads about a dozen blogs, once or twice a week. Blogs act as a filter for her; showing her what education issues are “rising to the surface.”
A good reporter, she said, knows that the researcher who offers qualified answers is probably more reliable than someone with strong black-and-white views.
Teachers and researchers should not hide from reporters. Most reporters want to talk to them. Open your doors and open your classrooms.
She also said she honestly would never write a story just about some report. Reports are valuable to inform stories and to inform discussion, but don’t expect your latest research report to take up an entire story.
The Education Sector’s Andrew Rotherham pointed to the cultural differences between academics and journalists: education research, and social science in general, reward caution and skepticism. But a journalist’s job is to tell readers what is going on right now. Researchers should keep in mind the reporter’s time pressures. They can help reporters do their jobs by being ready to refer them to other experts when necessary, and by not overstating the findings of their research. Remember that a lengthy interview may lead to only one quote in a story, but you are helping reporters do their jobs, and they appreciate that.
Alexander Russo pointed out that it’s important for researchers to talk to reporters because, if they don’t, the vacuum will be filled by someone else, perhaps with a very different agenda. Even when researchers don’t yet have conclusive findings, they can still play an important role in educating the reporter and the readers. Think tanks are pumping out Op-Eds and reports constantly, so researchers should make their work part of the discussion.