Journalists and science writers share expertise with SRPs from across the country

At the 2012 SRP annual meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina, the UNC Research Translation Core and Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting hosted a 4-hour science communication workshop to help SRP investigators tackle the challenges of communicating research findings to diverse audiences. The workshop featured current and former journalists and science writers , a case study on sharing groundbreaking environmental research with the news media, and a breakout session focused on crafting straightforward and meaningful environmental health messages for the public.

The workshop kicked off with a case study that highlighted the experiences of Dr. Brian Jackson and Laurie Rardin of Dartmouth’s Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program. Jackson and Rardin are well-versed in dealing with the press after the release of a 2012 article by SRP researchers titled, “Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup“, which brought widespread media attention to their research. They shared their experiences in dealing with the media during a time of heightened public concern about arsenic in foods and offered timely advice on how to communicate potentially controversial findings.

Helen Chickering-Nicholls, a freelance reporter and producer for NBC news and distinguished guest lecturer in the Medical and Science Journalism Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, followed their discussion with keen insight on key strategies for communicating with the news media as well as tips for developing clear and concise messaging that can assist journalists in relaying scientific findings to the public.

The participants, comprised of investigators from the SRP Community Engagement and Research Translation Cores, put these lessons to work during a lively breakout session. The investigators were tasked with de-constructing a national environmental health message and then re-writing the message to more clearly convey the key points. Participants were coached by professionals from NBC News, the Reporters’ Lab, Environmental Health Perspectives, and the Metcalf Institute. The exercise was a salient reminder of some of the challenges that members of the public, news media, and even researchers face when attempting to decipher dense scientific findings. Additionally, the workshop underscored the essential role of effective communications in all aspects of Superfund work, ensuring that complex and emerging science is presented in a meaningful way to the public.