The North West has a thriving media scene, and with MediaCity not far from the Manchester campus and a large regional newspaper, Manchester Metropolitan University academics are frequently called upon to provide expert comment on a range of topics.
Talking to the media can bring attention to your research, help with funding, increase opportunities for collaboration and enhance your own profile and that of the University.
Read about the experiences and advice from some of Manchester Metropolitan University’s media ambassadors:
Haleh Moravej is a Senior Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences and the creator of the student led initiative MetMUnch.
Haleh’s media work includes TV, radio and print. Her TV credits include CBBC Newsround - where she spoke about the nutritional benefits of bananas to children, Rip Off Britain – where she tested concentrations of orange juices. Haleh regularly offers commentary on food trends and nutritional claims and guidelines, on BBC Breakfast, ITV Granada News and for radio. Haleh has also commented for the Manchester Evening News on men with eating disorders, the Daily Express on coconut oil and for The Metro about the fad diets of 2016.
After taking part in media training to raise her awareness of the techniques and methods used by journalists and reporters, Haleh also gained a clear understanding of what to do and what not to do when dealing with the media.
How has the training helped you and how have you applied what you learnt? I love working with various radio stations. I have to think fast, give bite size answers and know my area and subject really well to be able to handle any questions flying in my direction. I think working with media will always keep me connected to what really matters in the real world and what subjects empower and excite the public.
Why is talking to the media important or useful to you as an academic? Interacting with the media allows my research and knowledge to reach thousands or even millions of people in a fun and interactive fashion. It keeps me excited and interested, as I have to think on my feet and be ready for the unexpected.
Media work offers me unique opportunities to raise the profile of Manchester Met, create public awareness of everyday nutritional issues and it allows me to talk about scientific topics to a variety of audience groups and populations.
How do you prepare for interviews with the press? I always check the latest research using up to date journals and prepare some basic notes with some key data. I rehearse but not too much. As a lecturer, we share our knowledge with students so for me working with media is just like lecturing without the PowerPoint. I like information that comes from the heart, from a real human being and not a robot.
Camera picks up any awkward behaviour and radio picks up shaky, stressed out voice so I always relax and have a good laugh. The media need us as experts and if we know why we are there in the first place then there are no surprises.
What is your favourite thing about talking to the media? Working with the media keeps me up-to-date and ahead of nutritional trends. It also feedbacks into student experience as the clips and recordings can be used in teaching and seminar debates.
What is the most difficult thing about talking to the media? Unexpected questions.
What is the best media experience you have had? I love it all. Every experience is unique and different.
What is your top tips for dealing with the media?
· Offer more than they expect
· Be professional and on time
· Short, sharp answers in a simple, customer friendly language
· Have an opinion and do not sit on the fence
· If uncomfortable about any topic, just express your concerns and if in doubt, do not do it as it is your professional reputation and the University’s reputation at stake
· When possible, always ask for all questions to be emailed to you ahead of a TV or radio interview
· Coconut CON: 'Healthy option' oil is actually packed FULL of saturated fat – Daily Express (31st March 2016). Read this story on the Daily Express website.
· Children should be treated like SMOKERS to stop them eating sugar, new study suggests - Daily Express (15th January 2016). Read this story on the Daily Express website.
· 'Righteous eating' and the shocking rise of men with eating disorders - Manchester Evening News (20th February 2015) - Read this story on the MEN website.
· Listen to some of Haleh's radio appearances online here.
Dr Bex Lewis is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at the Business School.
Bex’s media work includes TV, radio and print. It has allowed her to help people engage with the digital world in a positive way. Having a particular interest in how digital culture affects the third sector - especially faith organisations, voluntary organisations, and government behavioural campaigns – Bex regularly comments on how social media is used by the church and how people engage with the content.
As the author of the popular book ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst’ (Lion Hudson, 2014), Bex has numerous TV credits including The One Show and BBC News. She has appeared on BBC Radio 2 Steve Wright in the Afternoon and in the Daily Telegraph, The Church Times and many other publications commenting on internet safety.
How has the training helped you and how have you applied what you have learnt? I took early opportunities on university TV channels, and specialist radio programmes to build up my knowledge of how ‘the media’ worked, as well as attending media training, which helps develop both confidence, and understanding what the media are looking for.
Media commentary is certainly different from what might be expected from, for example, an academic paper. It has to be sharp, tight, on topic, and bring something new (although it is surprising how many times you find yourself repeating the basics).
Why is talking to the media important or useful to you as an academic? I have always resisted the idea of the ‘ivory tower’ academic, and want to see knowledge gained within the academy shared more broadly with the wider population. It’s also important that media coverage is informed by relevant research-informed expertise. As an academic with an interest in the ‘impact agenda’, media coverage demonstrates the relevance of publicly funded research.
How do you prepare for interviews and talking to journalists? I typically get an email or a phone call asking if I have something to contribute to the topic in discussion and if I’m available. After checking the diary and making sure that I do actually have something to say on the topic, I return the call/email. If I don’t have enough to say, I try and suggest another academic.
For a news show, I am typically sent a news article and I read around the topic, often asking for opinions from friends on social media. I will then note down a series of points that I think I can make in a font large enough to read whilst on the phone, or in the studio whilst being miked up.
Where possible, I try to get an idea of the questions that they want to ask, although there’s no guarantee that they will stick to these. If I’m going into a studio, I will sit reading through my material before I go in front of the camera and take the opportunity to ‘rehearse’ out loud if possible. If it’s an in depth magazine article, I am often asked to write it myself so I need to ensure that I have the latest research to hand. Whatever the shape of the interview or conversation, it’s important to have an idea of the focus and shape of the publication or show and shape your responses accordingly. You have to consider if the outlet is fun or serious? Is it for a niche audience?
It’s also worth noting that until you’re on screen/in print, you may be dropped at any point – and even then you might be cut short. I once had my foot in the BBC News studio, and was bumped by a story about Prince Charles as I was being miked up!
What is your favourite thing about talking to the media? It’s not something I’d want to do for a living, but I really enjoy the experience of seeing my research being put to use. It often prompts me to think about my research and knowledge from a new perspective. If something appears repeatedly, and it’s under-researched, I start to think about it as a potential research angle. There are some great show producers, and it’s been nice to develop a relationship with them and keep those contacts going!
What is the most challenging thing about talking to the media? One of the topics I am frequently asked to talk about is negative behaviour online. This means that I’m often dealing with a negative starting point when I’m seeking to put across a positive message about online experiences.
On a more practical level, unexpected questions, and early morning live shows are always more of a challenge. The most frustrating thing is when you have undertaken preparation and the story gets cut but that is part of the life of the media, especially news media.
What is the best media experience you have had? I was really excited to be interviewed for the New York Times, as it was the first international interview I’d done, but otherwise the BBC has offered me the best experiences. Being a ‘big guest’ on Steve Wright in the Afternoon (BBC Radio 2) was great fun (and a pre-record!), whilst The One Show (BBC 1) as an entertainment show, offered great hospitality, preparation, and was fun, as they simply wanted to get the best out of you. I did, however, get to say more the next morning on BBC News (quick dab of powder on the nose, miked up, into the seat in between stories, and then on the screen, and out again).
What is your top tip for dealing with the media? The producers want to make a good programme, so understand if they are looking for an angle, find hooks, respond fast as they are probably contacting several experts, and most importantly - know what you want to say.
· How social media is changing the church - The Conversation (5th May 2016). Read this story on The Conversation’s website.
· To see all of Bex Lewis’ press coverage visit drbexl.co.uk or listen to Bex's radio appearances online here.
Dr Jonathan Savage is a Reader in Education and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research in Education and Technology group within the Education and Social Research Institute. He teaches on various PGCE courses, doctoral studies programmes and is an active researcher in a wide range of areas.
As the subject lead for the Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching PGCE, Jonathan has commented on the state of music and arts education for trade and national publications. Jonathan also regularly comments on changes to education policy, teacher training methods and curriculum development.
Why is talking to the media important or useful to you as an academic? It is a useful way to raise your individual profile and that of our institution. In the world of education, it is important to challenge some of the misinformation that is presented to the media by policy makers seeking to enforce their particular viewpoint on the public.
How do you prepare for interviews and talking to journalists? Many of the contacts have come through blog posts on my website or via Twitter. It is important to maintain an active social media channel to draw journalists to your work. Once they have contacted me about a story, I will make notes on the issue and try to summarise these in a small number of key points. I will often write these points out in full to clarify them in my mind.
During the interview, on radio or TV, I will try to ensure that I get each key point across in a succinct way. I will try and illustrate this by reference to a specific example or experience in my professional or personal life. In my line of work, I’m fortunate to have five children of various ages who have all attended state schools. There is a huge catalogue of stories to draw upon!
What is your favourite thing about talking to the media? There is no doubt that it is a pressurised situation. However, I enjoy the challenge and the interaction. As mentioned, I enjoy trying to use anecdotes to try and illustrate the key points I have planned. For education, I’ll often talk about my own children and their schooling to bring key points to life. I’ve found that speaking as a parent as well as an academic strikes a positive chord in interviews.
What is the most challenging thing about talking to the media? Being asked an unscripted question. This doesn’t happen often but it can throw you if you are not well prepared. If the interview isn’t live (and many are not) then you can normally ask for a second or third go at answering a question if your first reply is not up to scratch!
What is the best media experience you have had? Probably being interviewed for the One Show; however, I did enjoy a couple of days working within the CBeebies production team at MediaCity in Salford for a new children’s TV programme. They are a very creative bunch!
What is your top tip for dealing with the media? Be prepared. Be concise. Be provocative.
· Brassed off: the music teachers on zero-hours contracts - The Guardian (28th July 2015). Read this story on The Guardian’s website.
· Lower fees, fewer essays, what's not to like about School Direct? - The Guardian (8th July 2013). Read this story on The Guardian’s website.