Who’s afraid of science journalists? Portugal’s scientists step into journalists’ shoes

By Vera Novais, Observador

 The “Who’s afraid of journalists?” session at SciComPT2017 meeting, in Portugal, explored the tricky relationship between journalists, scientists and press officers by having them role play each other’s jobs

What would happen if you put a scientist into a newsroom, and a journalist into a research lab?

They might just have lots of fun and learn how to get along better, if a popular role-play session at a recent science communication meeting in Portugal is anything to go by.

Around 25 of the 200 participants at the SciComPT2017 meeting in Coimbra, Portugal last month (12-13 October) attended the session “Who’s afraid of journalists?” (http://scicom.pt/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Programa-SciComPT-2017.pdf).

It’s common to hear that there’s a communication problem between journalists and scientists. Most of the time it’s due to a lack of understanding or lack of knowledge of each other’s needs. The best way to solve this might be to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

“Who’s afraid of journalists?” was a role-play session. Each participant, regardless of their work in real life, was given a task: to perform as a journalist, a scientist or a press officer – and a scenario – from a simple interview to a press conference after a fraud scandal.

Participants got really involved in their new roles, eventually performing many of the most common stereotypes without even being asked to. After the role play, moderators and other participants discussed the role play, the behaviours and how to overcome some obstacles to communication. Most participants were particularly interested in journalists’ work: for example, how they pick their stories.

I was moderating this session together with Júlio Borlido Santos, coordinator of the Communication Unit at the research institute I3S (Porto), and Ricardo Pires, scientist at the Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (Coimbra).

That same day, there was another session that brought together science communicators, press officers and science journalists. It was called: “What’s the role of scientific institutions’ communication offices: from media outlets to outreach, from scientists to society?”.

Scientists told stories about their experience with the media and how important it is to know what journalists expect from them. The audience was also interested in understanding how science journalists performed their work.

Both sessions were an indication that we can work together better if only we understand each other better, and such meetings can help foster better understanding.

Next year’s SciComPT Meeting will take place between the 10th and the 12th of October in Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Portugal – Plataforma Ciência Aberta. This is the first centre to be part of the Open Science Centre (http://www.opensciencecentre.org/), with plans to engage local communities with science, technology and innovation.

Photo: Vera Novais.