Many academics these days have some sort of social media presence. But your (traditional) media profile is also of increasing importance these days. This article looks how newspapers, radio, TV, and even film consultation can be built into an academic career, even on a modest basis, and can enhance an individual’s CV as a result.
Register your expertise
Most universities maintain databases of in-house expertise which are consulted when the media comes knocking. However, in the day-today pressures of academic life it is easy to overlook emails from university press officers asking academics to update their details – and in the middle of term the thought of being approached for a last minute interview on the news can be the last thing an academic feels like doing. But it may pay to approach your press office directly, to ensure that you are on their database, and that the details of what sort of media engagement you are willing to do, and on which topics, are correctly registered. Remember, too, that press offices are extremely busy, and if you demonstrate your willingness to be approached once you are far more likely to be approached again – not least because the press team will remember your name and your helpful approach.
It’s not all Hollywood…
Many academics are of course shy and retiring sorts to whom the thought of being in front of a camera is anathema. Of course, that is perfectly reasonable, and there’s no need to make yourself available for every media opportunity that comes along. But consider whether there might be occasions when making a statement or being interviewed on a matter of public policy, for instance, might fit with your academic values or your sense of how important it is that accurate research should be widely disseminated. In addition, bear in mind that there are many different forms of media engagement – and while you might not fancy an outward-facing role, you might be amenable to being approached by a print publication.
But sometimes it is…
And then there are those heady days when Hollywood really does come knocking. While we are all familiar with the tiny number of academics who make it onto our tv screens, there are more who collaborate with documentary or fiction writers, or film and tv makers to provide behind-the-scenes expertise and advice on a wide range of subjects. These forms of collaboration can be most rewarding and exciting for an academic, and may also feed into impact case study requirements.
Protecting your reputation
But before you rush off to the Hollywood hills, make sure you consult with your university’s press office and research office. This is particularly important if you have been approached directly, not through any university office. Make sure you tell them what you are doing, and show them any contract you have been offered for your help. While longer-term collaboration outside the sector can be a very positive thing, it may also raise issues relating to copyright, intellectual property, and reputational integrity. Don’t sign any waivers of copyright or disclaimers unless you have run these past the relevant offices and have documented any discussions you might have had about these matters.
Keep your department informed
Above all, if you intend to build a media profile as part of your academic career you would be well advised to inform your Head of Department and Director of Research of this. Such engagements may have significant consequences for REF plans, including for impact case study preparations. They may also have consequences for your teaching commitments. In addition, remember your colleagues. Don’t assume that just because a media outlet has approached you that that will take priority over the classes you should be teaching, and that your colleagues will just step in to take up the slack. Plan your commitments carefully.
Ask for training
If you decide to go down this path, make sure that you get suitable training from your university. Academics are very experienced at public speaking, but giving a short statement in a media interview may require extra training. Make use of the opportunities your university offers to polish your skills in this area.