Treading the integrity line
I had some media training last week, as part of the OU's REF build up. I've authored one of our impact case studies (on Open Education). The idea is that should we be asked to appear on radio then we're prepared to deal with the four minute interview on our subject.
I was a bit cynical going in to it, but it was a useful and fun session, practising being interviewed and getting your point across to a general audience. It's probably good practice for all academics to do, regardless of whether they'll ever be on the radio (and with a voice like mine, I hope not for everyone's sake).
I made the point that academics often come across awkwardly in interviews because they are caught in a somewhat schizophrenic situation. They are trying to speak simultaneously to two audiences. There is the general audience who doesn't want to know the subtle details, doesn't care about the history and framing work and hasn't got time to consider the complications – they want to know the key details and what's relevant to them. But at the same time the academic is aware that their peers may well be listening. They could come across as trying to claim more for themselves than is the case, of overstating the implication of their research and of grossly simplifying the complexity of the situation.
The media advisers said that the best academics in the mass media tended to ignore this second audience and just focus on the mass one. This is indeed a skill, and there are academics who do it well, making their subject interesting without sacrificing too much. And then there are academics who clearly become enamoured of the mass media attention and trade in all intergrity in order to become the person who makes a media friendly statement. For instance there's Dr Cliff Arnall who every year does the rounds with the Blue Monday nonsense.
I think it would be easy to eschew all mass media, but it can be done right – I just don't know that I could do it right. Which is why this blogging and online stuff suits me better – you get to explain it when you want to, and on your terms. Plus, here everyone's friendly, right?
The key I guess is in maintaining an integrity you feel comfortable with. And integrity always brings to mind the story I heard about Nick Cave who turned down a substantial sum from Gap for his music to be used in an advert. He reasoned:
"I get letters from people telling me they got married to The Ship Song, or that they buried their best friend to a Into My Arms, and I don't want them to look at the TV and see that they buried their friend to Cornetto or something. I feel some sense of responsibility about that, even though they wave enormous sums of money at you."
So here's some Nick Cave: