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My time as a British Science Association Media Fellow with Channel 4 News

Thursday 15 September 2016

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks working with Tom Clarke, Science Editor for Channel 4 News. This was part of my British Science Association Media Fellowship, which promotes cooperation and understanding between academics and the media.


My first day on the job was spent in the beautiful countryside of Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire, filming a really interesting piece on the impact of Brexit on British farmers. We interviewed the former Farming Minister, Jim Paice, on his own farm just outside Cambridge then travelled down the road to talk to people at an environmentally focused farm, run by the RSPB, before finally talking to a farmer whose land borders on Chequers (he told me he once had mince pies and sherry with Gordon Brown). The aim of the piece was to get views from people in various farming roles, some of whom had voted in favour of Brexit.


As I continued shadowing Tom back at ITN headquarters for the next two weeks, I began to feel that the approach taken by journalists to construct a news story is very similar to how we as Social Scientists go about designing a research project. In both approaches, the first stage is background reading around the topic to identify key issues and likely respondents. The next stage is interviewing the key stakeholders identified, ensuring that the topic is explored from a number of angles. The final stage is presenting the results of those interviews and desk research. This is where journalists and academics begin to diverge as for the journalists, there is no time to conduct detailed analysis. Their emphasis is on getting the key ideas out there as quickly and concisely as possible.


Whilst working in the newsroom, I was able to talk to a number of people who work as journalists, producers, editors, and cameramen. Some had been on the ground covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, others had worked at a whole array of media outlets, both print and broadcast. They all had fascinating stories about their time as journalists and were keen to offer advice on how academics can ensure that our research is picked up by the media.


I also helped out with a few of Tom’s pieces, setting up interviews, doing background research, and providing a voiceover in a piece on the Amazon river. I read a statement from Siemens – my starring role!


Following my placement at Channel 4, I attended the British Science Festival in Swansea, where I worked with the other 11 BSA media fellows and members of the press to report on the events of the week. This was a great opportunity to write about new interdisciplinary science research being showcased at the event as well as attend press conferences.

I would highly recommend the Media Fellowship scheme to anyone. I am looking forward to sharing my experience with my colleagues here at MMU.

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