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Media tools and media traps: some suggestions for ecologists

Calver, M.C.ORCID: 0000-0001-9082-2902 (1998) Media tools and media traps: some suggestions for ecologists. In: Wills, R. and Hobbs, R.J., (eds.) Ecology for everyone : communicating ecology to scientists, the public and the politicians. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Chopping Norton, N.S.W., pp. 50-56.


ECOLOGISTS’ can learn easily to communicate effectively, persuasively and concisely using all common forms of print and electronic media. In this chapter you will see how, in an incredible 30 seconds, you can grab and keep the attention of readers, viewers or listeners, tell a compelling story, ask for what you want and get it! You will be able to make your point to colleagues, journalists, business executives, public servants and politicians and the whole range of the general public. In the long term you will even save time ‘and improve your productivity. The steps and techniques to achieve this are simple and even fun.

Actually, the above paragraph is not my purpose in this chapter at all. It is a parody of the “30 second message” championed by Frank (1986) as a communications strategy for many walks of life. However, as you shall see argued with wit and conviction elsewhere in these proceedings (Kelly 1998), its central elements of interest, brevity and action are virtues in the communications media. The concept of a 30 second snatch on television or radio news may sit uneasily with scientists who are accustomed to longer discourse involving careful examination of methods, data and interpretations and who are instinctively suspicious of approaches that seem to value rhetoric over, substance. However, if one accepts the view that communicating ecology via the media is vital, then it will be necessary to accept the constraints and work effectively within them. This means that except for those lucky few who have the opportunity of a feature in the press or a major interview on radio or television, we are stuck with the “30 second message”. Fortunately, there are many sources, including the two given above, giving clear guides on constructing and presenting these vital snippets.

How, though, do you reach the position where you have the chance to deliver your message and what pitfalls should you beware’ of on the way? When I raised this point with the editors, their response was to invite me to research the topic and contribute this piece. Although my media experience is restricted to a few “letters to the editor”, a handful of radio interviews and a couple of nervy appearances on television, for those in the same position there may be value in sharing what a novice finds important when entering this arena. It might also encourage colleagues with greater experience and insights to share these with other ecologists via the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) electronic bulletin board. Contributions highlighting further specialist references would be especially valuable. The plan of the chapter is simple. It begins with a brief survey of the characteristics of print, radio and television media, overviews issues of organizational, policy, confidentiality and ethics on the part of ecologists dealing with the media, outlines methods such as media releases, media events and direct contact with journalists for offering news to the media, summarizes presentation techniques appropriate to the different media, suggests how to respond to unsolicited contacts from the media and concludes with ideas for further debate/action by the ESA on these important topics.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Surrey Beatty and Sons
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