you’re the voice: make it clear, make it understood

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You’re the voice: make it clear, make it understood Anna Payton, Marketing Officer, NCVER

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You’re the voice: make it clear, make it understood. Anna Payton, Marketing Officer, NCVER. You’re the voice of your research. no one knows your work better than you, but . your message must be clear and easily understood. Why use the media?. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


Youre the voice: make it clear, make it understood

Youre the voice: make it clear, make it understoodAnna Payton, Marketing Officer, NCVERWelcome

Im Anna Payton, Marketing Officer at the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

This presentation provides an overview of the considerations and decisions collectively we make at NCVER in our efforts to promote research to journalists across the country.

Before I get underway, Id like to get a feel for how much experience you have had with the media. How many of you have approached the media with a possible story? How many have you been interviewed by a journalist?

I think my presentation will either provide some valuable advice for those wanting to start developing stories for the media or reinforces your knowledge and your experience so far with the media.


Youre the voice of your researchno one knows your work better than you, but ...your message must be clear and easily understoodYou, as a researcher, are the voice of your research; no one knows your work better or more than you do. So, it would stand to reason that youd be the best person to talk about it and what it means. But, does it? In most cases, yes, I do think researchers are best placed to talk about their work, provided they can clearly articulate their research from other perspectives from others peoples shoes as it were.

In this presentation, I explore getting the message of your research out through the media, be it the mainstream or traditional media as newspapers, radio and television are now referred to, specialist and trade press which includes sectoral newspapers, magazines, journals or newsletters, and digital media, such as The Conversation.

Increasingly, researchers are being asked to discuss their work. Today, there is an expectation, if not a requirement, that researchers will actively communicate their work widely to a varied and wide range of audiences. One effective way to reach these groups is to use the media.

2Why use the media?

but its agenda isnt always the same as yoursit can be a vital allySo why use the media? Weve all heard of stories about pitches to journalists not going as planned or research being misrepresented. But, when it goes well, it can be the difference to your research being seen, read and discussed by many more people than would otherwise be the case without coverage.

Quite simply, the media in all its forms can be a vital ally in communicating your work. The reach of the mainstream and digital media, which often caters to specific niche audiences, is astounding as millions of people from all over Australia read, listen, watch or download stories each and every day. However its important to be aware that, more often than not, its agenda and yours will not be the same.

3Spoilt for choice

1500 to 2000 emails weekly for 50 to 60 stories HES, The Australianand getting coverage of VET stories harder than stories on schools and universitiesnews values -impacttimelinessprominenceproximitynoveltyconflictcurrencyhuman interestIts behaviour is driven in part because its highly competitive and the tyranny of deadlines.

The mainstream and a good slice of digital media is a hungry beast, constantly looking for content for articles, interviews and footage to be published across various platforms. But its spoilt for choice, making the industry highly competitive.

Looking specifically at education stories in the press, John Ross, who regularly covers vocational education and training (VET) stories in the Higher Education section for The Australian, estimates he get at least 50 emails a day, the majority of which are pitching a story. He estimates further that between him, his colleagues and the higher education news email account they receive at least 1500 to 2000 emails a week all vying for somewhere between 50 to 60 stories a week [press enter].

The majority of these articles (over two-thirds) are published in the online editions of the paper, with the remaining one third published in the weekly printed edition of Higher Education supplement. And this is just one specialist section of the paper. In the general news room of all the major newspapers and radio and television stations, its harder to quantify because of the overwhelming volume of incoming information. Its from within this deluge that you are trying to cut through and draw attention to your research. The lifting gets significantly heavier when stories about education are up against topics like politics, the economy, environment and health.

When education stories do make the general news, theyre usually focused on schools followed by universities. The reality is that getting the media interested in a story on vocational education and training often requires a lot of work. VET stories often get a better run they are pushed in the right direction with the right journalist. For example, at NCVER we target career editors for stories on outcomes/benefits of training.I dont wish to be discouraging about the likelihood of getting attention for VET stories attention in the mainstream media; rather, I think we should acknowledge the position from which we start. In comparison, sectoral press like Campus Review and those newsletters or journals, such as AVETRA News or newsletters published by the Industry Skills Councils, state/territory training departments, peak bodies like TAFE Directors Australia or ACPET, offer greater opportunities for coverage, as they operate in a less competitive environment. Nevertheless, its wise to consider the same criteria when approaching VET sector newsletters and journals as you would when pitching a story to mainstream media.So, what can we do to improve our chances with the mainstream and digital media? Before diving in, stand back and have a good hard look at the research and consider its newsworthiness. Effectively you have to view your research from the journalists perspective. Says Ross, The most important thing is be realistic; does this story have media appeal at all. If so, with whom?.

Stories that get journalists attention are based on a set of news values. These values are: impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, novelty, conflict, currency and human interest. The ones that have the most relevance to VET research stories are conflict (like stories about competing agendas, such as the Gonski Reviews recommendation for more funding for schools, but a government determined to balance the budget), impact (the significance, importance or consequence of an event or trend the recent push by unions to increase apprentices wages as a way to keep people in training), proximity (stories that focus on VET in local areas), timeliness (a current event which you can add to based on your expertise) and novelty (the stories with difference, such as the media coverage of research that explored the training opportunities in mens sheds). Ultimately success depends on having a story that resonates with an audience, and speaks to them.


your target audiences are the end-users of media and the media itselfYour audience is your top priority they are, after all, those you want to engage or influence. But in reaching them, your other audience is the media.

Indeed, your choice of media should be based on the audience you want to communicate with. This is where you need to choose carefully to maximise your chance of coverage and reduce the likelihood of the misrepresentation of your work. You also need to be mindful of maintaining your credibility with journalists.

5Targeting your audience & media

strong personal angle general newslabour market stories career sectionsstories with a policy focus HES, The Conversation, APOsocial policy/education stories appeal to Life Matters on ABC National RadioIn the handouts Ive provided a few examples of the different approaches for different audiences. Stories with a strong personal angle, like the wages of apprentices and trainees, finds traction in the general news section of newspapers, radio news and sometimes television news. This story also played on the news value of impact the actual wages of apprentices and by including the attrition rate of trade apprentices. And, it certainly worked well raise the profile of this issue for the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union.

This story ran in newspapers (print and online editions) many featuring a case study and picture, on radio and on television a rare occurrence with a story on The Project. Realising this story would generate interest, the clever people at RMIT issued a media release offering an expert for comment, an excellent example of harnessing the timeliness news value. The following day, an opinion piece by him was published on The Conversation and Business Spectator.

While my list doesnt include all the media coverage this story received, it does give you an indication of the amount of coverage it generated. A quick look of the headlines also reveals the different angles/lines taken by different media organisations based on the same story -- as I said earlier, the medias agenda will not always be the same as yours.

Research that focuses on labour market outcomes or skill development has a natural fit with the career sections of capital city daily newspapers. At NCVER, as you can see from the example, we target stories about changing training needs to career editors, as well stories about what people are studying, their outcomes and apprentice and trainee data, to name just a few.

Research that examines policy issues is more likely to be of interest to journalists at The Australian and the editors of The Conversation or Australian Policy Online than local suburban press or even the daily tabloid papers, like The Advertiser in Adelaide, or The Herald Sun in Melbourne. A good example of this is the opinion editorial by Leesa Wheelahan on research about the blurring of boundaries between VET and higher education that we arranged with The Australian. This opinion piece was based on research authored by Leesa and colleagues and published by NCVER.

Similarly, research that explores the intersection of social policy and education is likely to appeal to the listeners and thereby the producers of the Life Matters program on ABC National Radio.For stories that will appeal to other academics or educators, Id consider Campus Review and again The Conversation or Australian Policy Online. There are also a host of sectoral print and digital media, not only representing training departments, peak bodies and associations, but specific areas of interest, such as literacy and numeracy, or equity.To identify potential media targets, first think about your target audience who will be interested in this research and search the internet, or read, watch and listen to whats out there. If youd like to pitch a story to a particular journalist, read their columns, listen or watch their programs. The time you spend researching them, could well pay off in getting them to cover your research. You can also ask respected colleagues particularly those who have experience with the media. And dont forget about your organisations communication/marketing department they will help with the heavy lifting and would certainly appreciate you coming to them with a good story.

6Tailor your message

balance between accuracy, completeness and readabilityclarity structure use the inverted pyramid of all media storieslanguageWith your target audience(s) firmly in mind, you can develop your key messages ensuring they are clear and easily understood.Clarity The perennial challenge of communicating research effectively is finding the balance between accuracy, completeness and readability. Working out what is important and the best way to communicate with your audience and the media isnt always easy. As a rule of thumb, focus on your research findings and ask why they are important and what they mean for your target audience and the media. This will help to bring the research to life and provide the basis for a story that resonates. Structure is also important for clarity as it provides the framework for controlling the flow of information. However the structure of press articles and interviews is markedly different to research work, which builds up to a conclusion. Press articles and interviews, on the other hand, invariably start with a research findinga headline has to have impact. Having worked out what youre going to say, its equally important to pay attention to how you say it.LanguageEveryday spoken, conversational language is the currency of the media. Ignoring this rule and including jargon only serves to alienate audiences, especially the media. This is something that journalists mention time and again and even Ross who is familiar with the VET sector finds it, at times, impenetrable. When you consider the tyranny of the deadline that all journalists work tobe it 4pm for the 6pm news, 5pm for tomorrows paper or within the hour for the next news update on radiomeans that journalists dont have the time to unravel jargon and technical information. Combined with the avalanche of information pouring in to newsrooms and journalists email accounts, it means they dont have to, either. The upshot of this can be a good story goes begging.

While Im talking about language, I should mention the importance of active speech, which not only helps to create a sense of immediacy, it works wonders to help with clarity.7Telling the story when the media calls

Talking points key messages that are clear, succinct, logical, conversational, and avoid jargon & acronyms Telling the story when the media callsWhen it comes to media interviews, the old adage that every second counts is apt. The average time to get your message across ranges from 30 to 45 seconds for a news-grab, and between five to ten minutes for talkback radio or television interviews. When you consider that you speak on average 50 to 60 words in 30 seconds, a news-grab means you only have about 50 to 75 words in which to get your message across quickly, clearly and concisely.

I think youll agree with me that thats not a lot of time or words to convey your messages, so getting to the heart of the matter is vital.To help you focus on the key messages you want to communicate, develop talking points or a short list of key messages. As with other communications for the media, consider your audience and develop key messages that are [enter] clear, succinct, have a logical structure, are conversational, and do not include jargon or acronyms. I also recommend that you limit your key messages to threetheres only so much ground you can cover clearly in five minutes.

In the examples Ive included at the back of the handout, you can see that Josh Healys key message was skill shortages can force businesses to find a solution internally when they can see a clear reason for it. Likewise, NCVERs Managing Director in a longer interview reiterated four key messages about the IQ2 event NCVER is hosting with St James Ethics Centre. He mentioned that its the first event of this kind in Adelaide, why NCVER is co-hosting the event, who the speakers are and that tickets were now on sale (book via the BASS website).Another point to remember is that you dont have to do the interview when the journalist first rings. Ask for their deadline and agree to call them back (or vice versa) at a time that suits both parties, but try give yourself some time to prepare your talking points and rehearse them aloud (written speech doesnt always sound appealing), and do call the journalist back!


be accessible and responsiveTime, like the media, awaits no one and timely responses can be the difference between your research being todays story, or yesterdays missed opportunity. Quite simply, researchers who are accessible and responsive are those favoured by the media.


good coverage is highly valuable for your research, for you as a researcher , and your organisationThe success of your media activity relies on carefully crafted messages, being accessible and responding to enquiries in a timely manner, but its worth it. Good coverage of your research in the media is highly valuable. It can push the agenda along, having an impact in policy circles and down at grass root levels with students and practitioners. It also raises the profile of your work, your profile as a researcher and that of your organisation without spending large sums of money on advertising and other promotional campaigns.

So, just to reiterate my key messages: develop a nose for news know why your research will make a good story develop clear, concise and easily understood key messages less, really is, more be responsive and accessible.

10Acknowledgements & referencesJohn Ross, Higher education journalist, The Australian

ReferencesRoss, J. & Payton, A. (2012). Interview with John Ross on vocational education and training stories in the media. Unpublished.Rodgers, P. (2011). NCVER Media Awareness Training. NCVER, Adelaide. [in-house workshop]

I would like to acknowledge John Ross, Higher Education journalist, at The Australian for providing insights about selling a vocational education and training story to journalists and for generously agreeing to speak with me. His tips and hints can be found throughout this paper.