Communicating with the Media
The Media Liaison Committee (MLC) helps facilitate communication between the SVP and members of the media. This page includes quick links to documents that will help you interact with members of the media, FAQs about the MLC, misconceptions about the MLC, and information about presenting your research at the annual meeting.
Tips for interacting with the media
Tips for writing a press release
Example press releases from JVP Featured Articles
Frequently Asked Questions about the Media Liaison Committee (MLC)
Q: What does the MLC do?
A: The main responsibility of the MLC is to write press releases for the SVP. This includes press releases for: (1) JVP Featured Articles; (2) abstracts featured at the annual meeting (see below); (3) other topics related to the SVP more generally, as requested by the Executive Committee (e.g., particularly noteworthy awards, policy statements, etc.). These press releases are translated into several other languages for distribution throughout the globe. We also respond to questions from members of the media about paleontology-related topics and help them get in contact with SVP specialists. We run a workshop on interacting with the media at the annual meeting, and coordinate an event at the meeting for members of the media that allows them to speak with authors of featured abstracts (see below). We provide SVP members with tips on writing a press release and interacting with the media (see links at left). We oversee the SVP Twitter feed, and also the SVP blog, Old Bones. We advise the Executive Committee on policies related to interacting with the media. Finally, we are available to answer any questions members might have about these and similar topics.
Q: How are the abstracts featured at the annual meeting selected?
A: The Program Committee sends the MLC a list of abstracts that it thinks might generate interest in the general public. This is typically 10-25% of the accepted abstracts. Members of the MLC read these abstracts and vote for their top ten. The votes of MLC members are tallied, and featured abstracts are selected from among the top vote-getters. We try to feature a variety of subjects (different groups of vertebrates and research techniques) as well as authors (students, junior, and senior researchers; men and women; US and international). We also try to ensure that different authors are being featured in different years.
Q: Why wasn’t my abstract featured at the annual meeting?
A: We are only able to feature about ten abstracts each year out of the more than 800 that are accepted. This means that some abstracts of potential interest to the general public will undoubtedly NOT be featured each year, simply due to that constraint. Other possible reasons include: (1) an abstract by you was featured recently, and we try to feature as many researchers as possible; (2) the paper based on your abstract was published before the annual meeting, making it “old news”; (3) you have already received media attention for a similar topic, making it difficult to distinguish your new findings from your previous findings; (4) your research is compelling, but your title and abstract failed to attract our attention; (5) we have an obligation to feature something other than dinosaurs and giant predators.
Q: Why can’t the MLC feature more abstracts at the annual meeting?
A: The MLC is a volunteer committee, just like all SVP committees. It takes a lot of time to work with authors to produce a quality press release. Therefore, our members usually only have the time to write one press release for the annual meeting (on top of working on their own research presentations). If you would like to get media exposure for your own SVP abstract, we encourage you to work with your media relations office to write your own press release for distribution to local media outlets.
Q: Why does the SVP use an embargo, and how does a media embargo work?
A: We have an embargo to help protect SVP members and ensure that their research receives in-depth rather than cursory coverage. An embargo gives members of the media advance warning of a story before it is released to the general public. This allows them time to contact the author and other authorities in advance of the publication deadline so that they can release a more thorough story when the embargo lifts. An embargo typically lifts when the journal article is available online or officially published. In the case of the annual meeting, it lifts at the time of the presentation.
Q: Can I break my own media embargo for my SVP presentation?
A: Yes, but you should think carefully about whether you would want your results publicized before you actually present them.
Q: Will the MLC write a press release for me?
A: No. We unfortunately do not have the capacity to write press releases for individual members upon request.
Q: Can I write my own press release for a JVP article or annual meeting abstract?
A: Yes! If possible, you should work with your employer’s media relations office to write a press release and distribute it to local media. If you want to write a press release yourself, contact one of our members to get feedback and suggestions. Be sure to check out our tip sheet and examples of paleontology-oriented press releases.
Q: Can the MLC work with my home institution to alert media outlets about the cool research I am doing, particularly if it is relevant to my state or region?
A: No. Since the SVP has more than two thousand members, the MLC does not have the capacity to do this. Moreover, universities, museums, and other institutions are much more in touch with their local media outlets than we could ever hope to be. However, we are happy to help you figure out how best to work with your employer’s media relations office to publicize your latest study.
Q: How can I write an entry for the SVP blog, Old Bones?
We would love to have your help with the SVP blog! If you are interested in writing something, contact the blog master (Tony Friscia), who will discuss the policies and procedures with you. We are especially interested in entries about the "life of a paleontologist,” such as field work journals, how you do your research, etc.
Q: Who manages the SVP Twitter feed, and can I help?
A: The SVP Twitter account is managed by members of the MLC, who keep an eye out for interesting stories and tweet about things related to the SVP. We would like to keep the people with access to the account to a bare minimum, so if you are interested in helping, talk to the MLC (start with the Chair or Vice-Chair).
Common misconceptions about the Media Liaison Committee and the media:
COMMENT: “Perhaps the MLC could work on getting media interested in topics that they don't know enough about to be interested in.”
RESPONSE: Members of the media have a job to do, and that is to find and report on interesting stories. The way to get the media interested in something they know nothing about is to write a compelling, understandable press release about a timely topic.
COMMENT: “I think that there is way too much emphasis on communicating research to the news media. Most reporters are so woefully ignorant that it does as much harm as it does good.”
RESPONSE: No one ever said that effectively communicating one’s message to the media would be easy. If you want a reporter to get it right, you have to work to make sure your message is clear and presented in a way that is easily understood. You can also ask to see a story before it is published to confirm the facts. However, you must be prepared to work on the reporter’s schedule, as they typically have very short deadlines.
COMMENT: “The MLC has catered too much to the reporter/press side of things. There should be a parallel push on making the media serve us.”
RESPONSE: We all mainly have our own interests at heart. The MLC works with the media because we want visibility for our society, and our members want visibility for their research. Members of the media work with us because they know that people are interested in paleontology and that the SVP is the leading professional organization in the field of VP. Members of the media cannot be made to serve us any more than we can be made to serve them.
COMMENT: “Last year I had a Science paper that got a lot of exposure, but at the annual meeting two months later I was buried at 8:30 Saturday morning for my talk, and the MLC had zero interest. We need to sell a lot better.”
RESPONSE: A study only gets one shot in the media. It is bad form to try to pass something off as news two months after it made its way around the internet. Scheduling of presentations at SVP is completely independent of MLC activities, and coordinating the two would be extremely challenging logistically.
Presenting your results at the SVP annual meeting
Some SVP members have expressed concern about presenting their unpublished research at SVP meetings because they worry that press reports may affect their chances of publication in certain journals, in particular the weekly science magazines Science and Nature. In order to clarify this matter, we would like to pass along the following suggestions for dealing with the media.
Reporters attend our meetings to bring their audiences up to date with important developments. This is true of reporters from the prominent science weeklies and of those from newspapers and magazines. Because we invite and admit them, they are free to report on what is presented. Editors of scientific journals to which authors may later decide to submit their research do not regard such popular reporting as problematic for the primary publication of research reports.
Authors are free (and are often well advised) to speak to reporters, in order to clarify what they say in their presentations. However, if in such conversations authors go beyond their presentations — that is, if they provide reporters with data, illustrations, manuscripts, or preprints, or if they call or participate in press conferences (including SVP’s) about their work — they have essentially disseminated those research results. It is then legitimate for a journal editor to conclude, in regard to a manuscript that may be submitted later, that this work has already been reported — even if it was reported in the same journal’s news pages. To cite the publication policy of Science directly:
The main findings of a paper should not have been reported in the mass media. Authors are, however, permitted to present their data at open meetings but should not overtly seek media attention. Specifically, authors should decline participation in news briefings or coverage in press releases and should refrain from giving interviews or copies of the figures or data from their presentation or from the manuscript to any reporter unless the reporter agrees to abide by Science’s press embargo. If a reporter attends an author’s session at a meeting and writes a story based only on the presentation, such coverage will not affect Science’s consideration of the author’s paper (from the Science Web site: www.sciencemag.org).
In our experience most science reporters are assiduously conscientious about their work, and are happy to check quotes and statements. However, researchers are not obliged to discuss their work with any reporter, nor to answer questions if they do not feel comfortable, prepared, or willing to have such statements disseminated publicly. A researcher may also go “off the record” with a reporter to discuss research results that may serve as background or perspective but are not meant to be disseminated publicly.
Good science reporting benefits all of us. Misunderstandings may occasionally happen, but if researchers have any concerns about reporting their work or talking about it with someone from the press, they should first refer to the points above to be sure that the terms of discussion are clear.
- Most importantly, no one should feel constrained about presenting original, unpublished research results as a talk or poster. A central role of scientific meetings is to provide a forum to exchange ideas and to benefit from the experience and views of colleagues; no editor or publisher wishes to restrict or jeopardize this free flow of information.
See the current guidelines