Brontomerus in magazines: preparing for the media
September 23, 2011
With our baby’s appearance in National Geographic this week, she’s now been in four mainstream magazines:
That’s National Geographic at top left, Macleans next to it; The Scientist at bottom left, and National Geographic Kids next to that. (The articles in the first three of these are available online here, here and here, but I can’t find anything on the NG Kids web-site.)
There is a point to this post, beyond
gloating celebrating Brontomerus: it’s that diligent preparation improves a study’s chance of getting good coverage. A few people have asked us to write a bit about what we did, so at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, here it is.
Most of Brontomerus‘s visibility is due to the hard work of the UCL Publicity team, and especially the excellent and widely-reproduced video that they made in the Grant Museum. But we made it easy for UCL to take an interest by preparing a bunch of materials ahead of time, before they even knew that there was a paper coming out. We called it the Brontomerus press pack, and made sure it contained everything anyone could need for writing and illustrating stories about our animal:
- The basic story
- Background on what a sauropod is
- Two variations of a life restoration
- A video of a rotating 3d model of the animal
- A photo of all the bones; detailed photo of the important ilium
- A skeletal reconstruction
- A photo of the three co-authors with the material
- Explicit credits, copyrights and permissions for the images and video
- Link to the proof PDF of the paper itself
- A fact sheet, noting common errors to avoid
In short, we tried to give journalists, and radio and TV researchers, everything they needed to put together a story aimed at their own audience. More than that — we tried to make it easy for them. They have plenty going on, after all: Brontomerus came out on the day that the Libyan protests really took off, so it’s not as though news editors were short of material to fill their slots. I suspect that if we’d not got all the ducks in such a neat row, Brontomerus would have disappeared from the news schedule in double-quick time.
Another important thing you can do to make news editors’ jobs easier: make sure that the images you provide are in high resolution, so they don’t pixellate when they’re blown up to fill a screen; and be explicit about image/video credit, copyright and permissions. Let them know what they can use and under what conditions. If you make them hunt for that information, or even chase you for it, they’ll probably lose interest and do a different piece instead. And we really wanted the artist who’d done the Brontomerus work to be credited: Paco Gasco did a fantastic job, and deserved to be known for it.
Equally important, by getting as much material as possible ready before even contacting the university publicity people, we made their job easier. Once they were on board, we were able to extend the page with extras like an official press release and the video, but the framework was all in place ahead of time.
In short, there is a whole load that you can do to prepare a study for media coverage. Not much of it is rocket-science. It’s basically just about getting the work done. And it is work, plenty of it.
Still. It’s worth it.
And another thing …
You should all get across to Heinrich Mallison’s new blog and check it out. Lots of excellent palaeo-photography, even if today’s post is about a stinkin’ mammal.
Addendum (from Matt)
First, some credit where it’s due. We didn’t figure all of this out on our own. For Brontomerus in particular, we took a lot of cues from the fact sheet that Irmis et al. put together for their 2007 “rise of dinosaurs” paper that made the cover of Science.
Second, we did figure some of it out on our own, but not all at once. If you look at Mike’s unofficial online press packs for Xenoposeidon (2007), our neck posture paper (2009), and Brontomerus (2011), you’ll see that each one is better than the one before.
Finally, you may be saying to yourself, “Okay, I understand that I’m supposed to make things easy for journalists and have a bunch of stuff queued up for them. But where do I put it?”
Well, online, obviously. If you don’t already have a blog, WordPress and Blogger and probably a zillion other services give them out for free, and you can make an ad hoc, one-shot blog for every press-release-worthy paper, as Mark Witton and Darren did for their azhdarchid paleobiology paper in PLoS ONE.
But let me wax preachy for a minute. If you’re a young researcher and you’re trying to make an impact, why aren’t you blogging? It’s not an intolerable commitment. Sure, regular posting brings more readers, but irregular posting brings more readers than not having a blog at all.
We started SV-POW! as a joke, and continued it during the actually-posting-weekly-about-sauropod-vertebrae phase (which lasted for 2.5 years) because it was fun and challenging, and maintain it now because it’s fun, we enjoy the wacky discussions that get going from time to time in the comments, and, frankly, we’re addicted to having a soapbox where we can say pretty much whatever we want. We didn’t explicitly plan it as a way to funnel readers to our scientific work, but that has been one of its great exaptive benefits. I’d be shocked if the same isn’t true for other researchers who blog.
So, moral of the story: if you’re a researcher and you’re not blogging, you’re missing out. Your work is reaching fewer people than it might. Come out and play. Join the conversation. Interact. Your future self will thank you.