Tag Archive | communication

A Talk between a Journalist and a Scientist

   A few weeks ago, in one of my graduate class” Science Communication”, classmates discussed the topic about the communication barriers between scientists and science journalists. The debate sounds like an old and everlasting one, and the two sides seems not able to achieve good understanding with each other at all the time.  

   When I took apart in this discussion in class, my feelings were different from any other of my classmates, which is all due to my special background: I am a physicist in my past five years, and a science journalist since this year. “Is there such a huge disagreement between two sides?” I keep wondering this during the discussion.  Because from my own experience, I believe a good scientist should be able to simply his research work in clear sentences that general audience could get,  and similarly that a good journalist could be able to objectively transfer what the scientists say to the audiences without being questioned later by scientists. Why do scientists  think journalists cannot transfer what they said accurately?

Then, in the following week, I had a chance to go to a hospital to interview a medical expert for one of my project. When I met him, and after he knew I made this for a class and also may go to publication, he told me that, “If your work just go for a class, I propably could answer your questions and let you do the interview now. But if it is for publication, then I dont think you could interview me today, we have to find another time. I need time to think how to answer your question more properly, since I will take responsiblity to the public for my words.” After hearing this, I felt a little confused and asked him why he could not explain his research and answered my question properly on that day, since I believe he should be able to talk to a general audience about his work anytime since he has already done a long-time research on this area. “Are you worried that  I am not able to translate your meanings accurately to the public?” I asked, “well, journalists always cannot translate it well.” He answered.

At that moment, I suddenly realized what the barrier is between a journalist and a scientist in the class discussion: sometimes, just one side loses credibility in the other side. This is a real example. Then, I explained to the medical expert that I was used to be a scientist before too, and totally understood his concerns. But what I would like to know is just some general knewledge about his research, and I think it should be able to be concluded in simple and clear sentences. “If I were not a journalist, if I were just a patient family member, and ask you this question simply to get some general knowledge about this, then how could you answer me?” I asked, smiling. He silenced. “And, that is all what I wish to ask and show to the audiences in my interview.” I said.

Luckily, this interview was finally done on time after we had a further communication with each other and both had a better understanding with each other. This interview gave me a good example about the barrier between a journalist and a scientist. Although there are many reasons for this phenonemon, and solution is also not an easy one, yet mutal credibility and understanding seems very  important to some extent.

Digging the Stories behind People

My fourth package tells a story about a TreeKeepers class, which is a part of TreeKeepers volunteer program and held on last Saturday. When I showed up in the class, I found that the class itself does not have too much information in it, in order to increase the news value of this TreeKeeper class and the interest of this story, I definitely have to find a central compelling character to focus on.

During this semester’s intense lab works, I have already been quite accustomed to talking to people and leading questions, which was a difficult thing for me to do several months ago. But donot get me wrong, I donot mean I am not good at communicating with or donot like talking to people, it is just because as a foreigner in both language and the major (my previous major and long years’ training is physics, and journalism is totally new for me), it takes time for me to communicate with people as freely as native journalists. And this time’s interview teaches me something more than just talking to people–I have learnt how to dig the stories behind people.

I still remember Greeley’s words when last time I talked to him about my package three and how far I could be cleared. Greeley said my package three has done pretty well, as for the news itself (about public forum), I have already done pretty good, but… the key is the “but”, he said but it is boring. Boring? If it is just a public forum, then how do I make it interesting? When Greeley said I could redo my package three to make it interesting, I feel confused and have no idea about how to make it interesting. So I finally choose to do a brand new story about TreeKeepers. But I didnot stop considering the “interesting” question along the way I am doing my package four.

Like I mentioned before, the TreeKeepers classes itself contain no much information, then after I took videos of the classes, I was looking for my interviewees. At this time, I met Ms. Deed, an elegant old lady who attracts me by her attentive attitude of listening to the classes and taking notes. Then, I talked to her. This time, I dont let myself talk to her as a journalist who talks to her as a job and keeps deadline in mind all the time. instead, I talked to her as a friend or  a person who wish to know her, because I am curious what makes her so attentive to the classes. Then, I got my answer, knowing it is one of her maples’s death making her come to this class and becoming tree volunteers, knowing that she owns  a large farm and backyard and buid tens of trees, and knowing her passion for trees and nature. Then, I went to her home and saw her beautiful backyard, her beloved trees and various kinds of small birds on the trees. It is definitely not my first time to visit a private farm and see such a large backyard, but it is really one of  a few moment I met before that makes me feel a kind of peace and  being close to pure nature. My curiosity and frank feelings make Ms. Deed tell me more about herself, and I know she is a skin cancer patient, but she is brave and optimistic, and she is also very kind, kind to trees, kind to small animals and kind to people.

On the spot of the TreeKeepers classes, there is one MU student telling me that the lady always provides free ride for her during weekend to somewhere she needs to go. After knowing these stories, I feel moved by Ms. Deed, and understand her passion for life and nature from a deeper level. At this time,  I suddenly understand the “interesting”questions–that is, telling stories from human angle, or humanizing stories, recording the moving moment relating to the story. That is also why everytime, we are required to do CCC. Because story close to people will make audiences feel more familiar with and easier to pay attention to. And another thing I have learnt is that interviewing is not just “interviewing,” if you do interview just for a routine job, then you get boring answers. But if you talk to people like friends, and pay your sincere interest on people, then you could dig the stories behind people, and really could catch the moving moments. I think this might also be one of the meanings behind news stories–informing people about life.