Quality matters: Press Releases in Science Communication - SPSA 2014

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Quality Matters: Science Translation from Press Releases to News - an Online Survey Experiment

Quality Matters: Science Translation from Press Releases to News - an Online Survey Experiment

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  • I started this research with the basic question of where hype is science reporting comes from, and how press officers and journalists might be able to minimize this hype.
  • Little research has looked into exactly how and what aspects of press releases influence the quality of subsequent news coverage in science. The goal of this study was to understand how endorsement of various newsworthiness criteria affect communicators’ evaluations of science press releases.
  • While scientists often blame the media for poor quality of reporting on science, research has shown that the press release is actually a major point of distortion in the translation of science from journal article to news story (Brechman, Lee, & Cappella, 2011).
  • In a quote from Geller and colleagues, “today’s newsworthy discoveries must relate to common diseases, to some immediate therapeutic application, or involve some controversy.” But while journalists may be attracted to stories that feature controversy or new and exciting results, scientists value objectivity and replication of scientific results.
  • *All stimulus articles were originally written by and created in collaboration with Matt Shipman, an experienced science communicator and public communication specialist at NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • “This study fills a gap in research on the direct impact of scientific press release quality on self-reported news decisions of journalists, and the moderating influence of traditional news factors on these decisions.”

Transcript

  • 1. Quality Matters: Science Translation from Press Release to News Paige Brown Ph.D. Student, Manship School of Mass Communication
  • 2. Problem Statement • Poor quality and irresponsible reporting in areas of science, medicine and environmental news. – Bad science? Over-claiming press releases? Journalistic norms? Lack of science education?
  • 3. Goals arstechnica.com • What makes a potential science story newsworthy?
  • 4. The Role of the Press Release • Press releases have been found to serve as a point of distortion and hype in the process of translating peerreviewed research into news media • (Brechman et al., 2011; Brown, 2012). How can press releases promote quality science journalism?
  • 5. Principles for Health & Science Journalists 1. Don’t report preliminary findings. 2. Communicate the absolute magnitude of (significant) differences. 3. Include caveats, major study limitations and conflicts of interest. Lisa M Schwartz & Woloshin, 2004
  • 6. Methods • Online survey experience of science communicators (recruited via Twitter, Listserv, E-mail). • Participants were randomly assigned to one of four contrived, written 1-2 page press release conditions* within Qualtrics. – – – – (1) a control press release (2) a press release containing confirming evidence (3) a press release containing disconfirming evidence (4) a press release mentioning important study limitations.
  • 7. Methods • After reading the 1-2 page written press release, participants were asked to answer a series of questions related to: – likelihood to pursue a story based on the press release [adapted from (Schmierbach, 2005)] – perceived newsworthiness of the information according to a variety of traditional news factors – Importance attributed to variety of news factors in general
  • 8. Key Results: News Factors
  • 9. Key Results • Participants who attributed high importance to conflict/controversy as a criteria of newsworthiness: – Indicated that the news outlet(s) they worked for would be significantly more likely to write a story based on the disconfirming press release than on the control press release (Conditional Effect = -1.78, S.E. = .69, p = .01.)
  • 10. Figure 1. Graphical representation of Hayes’ Process Analysis, with Mean±1SD Pick-a-Point conditioning, for importance of conflict/controversy moderation of stimulus effect on Likelihood2.
  • 11. Key Results • Participants who attributed only moderate importance to facts/reliability of facts as a criteria of newsworthiness: – indicated that the news outlet(s) they worked for would be significantly more likely to write a story based on the disconfirming press release than on the confirming press release (Conditional Effect = -1.0, S.E. = .48, p < .05)
  • 12. Figure 2. Graphical representation of Hayes’ Process Analysis, with Mean±1SD Pick-a-Point conditioning, for importance of facts/reliability of facts moderation of stimulus effect on Likelihood2.
  • 13. Conclusion • This study fills a gap in research on the direct impact of scientific press release quality on self-reported news decisions of journalists, and the moderating influence of traditional news factors on these decisions.
  • 14. Questions & Acknowledgements Follow me, Ask Questions @FromTheLabBench Thanks To: • Matt Shipman (*All stimulus articles were originally written by and created in collaboration with Matt Shipman, an experienced science communicator and public communication specialist at NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina.) • Manship School of Mass Communication • NASW-talk, Karl Bates & SCONC Listservs