Over a Decade of Advanced Study Opportunities for Social Change Leaders Worldwide  |  2001–2013
September 05, 2012

Bill Tyson, a media relations specialist and former IFP consultant, is the author of the book Pitch Perfect: Communicating With Traditional and Social Media for Scholars, Researchers, and Academic Leaders.

In a recent article for Change Magazine of Higher Learning entitled "The Scholar as Public Intellectual", he provides a practical guide for those who wish to communicate their ideas and knowledge outside the classroom or academic institution. 

IFP recently spoke with Bill about how the academic community can use both traditional and social media to reach a broader audience and increase the social impact of their research:

Follow Bill on Twitter: @BTysonPitchPerf



IFP: Before social media came along, how did academics, scholars, and researchers typically communicate knowledge, such that theory could be transformed into practice – especially around social justice?

BT: Scholars and researchers have traditionally relied on communicating their knowledge through the publication of books, journal articles, and presentations at major professional society meetings. These actions remain essential in advancing their good work. However, as important as they are, these efforts often fall short in a scholar's potential to reach broader audiences and create positive social change. Many scholars who have been successful in advancing ideas to others beyond their students and peers have reached out to media, both to traditional and new, to share information.
Before the advent of social media, traditional media options for scholars and researchers often were to engage with reporters as expert sources; write opinion articles and letters to the editor for newspapers and magazines; and appear on radio and television news and current event programs, like NPR's "All Things Considered" and NBC's "Meet the Press," as guest interviews or panel members.  Though social media provides many new communications options, these approaches to traditional media remain vital for scholars and researchers in conveying knowledge.
IFP: How has the ‘social media revolution’ changed the way we communicate knowledge for broader audiences?
BT: Social media is immediate, personal, interactive, and has the potential to reach millions of people around the world. You become the reporter in telling your story. The challenge, as with traditional media, is to make your story of interest that people will read and care about.
IFP: Does traditional media still play a role in highlighting the practical value of scholarly work, and if so, how? In other words, can traditional and social media work in tandem?
BT: Social media often amplifies the news reported by traditional media. The combination of these two forms of media create a dynamic communications package.  A study conducted by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that "while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media--particularly newspapers." For example, of the news stories appearing on social media sites that contained new information, the study found that 95 percent of them came from traditional media. In other words, an interesting story that first appears in a major newspaper or magazine has a good chance of being repeated in a blog, tweet, and podcast. Many of the strongest news Web sites are produced by legacy media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN.
IFP: The vast majority of IFP fellows come from marginalized communities around the world, and the scholars among them usually focus their research on social issues they face at home – from public health, to climate change, to human rights and equality in education. What advice would you give them on how to amplify their work so they can make the leap from idea to impact?
BT: My advice would be to contact local, regional, and national media in your country.  You can initiate meetings with reporters, both print and broadcast, who are covering issues that you are advancing; offer story background and serve as an expert source or guest interview on the topic. You can write opinion articles and letters to the editors for in-country publications. You can begin writing a blog and tweeting on topics of importance to you. You can participate in social media sites that also are addressing these issues.  Writing journal articles and continuing your good work further establishes your expertise and demonstrates to media your value as a news source.
IFP: How important is it for scholars and researchers – especially those publishing work on international development – to conduct their own public outreach, including attending conferences, pitching to the media themselves, etc. Should development scholars work directly with journalists, since journalists are often responsible for making a connection between research and public consciousness?
BT: As I note in my book, thousands of scholarly papers and books are written each year.  Many have value to audiences beyond the academy and the institutions supporting these efforts.  Yet most new works and their ability to influence change go unheard.  "Ideas no longer score points," says one university professor.  "Their impact must be amplified to be noticed in an increasingly complicated world."  Working with media can help you get the word out on important societal issues. It can be a resource in promoting positive change.
You are "the world's eye" and "the world's heart," said Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1837 address "The American Scholar," which he delivered at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wrote one book review editor, "Emerson envisioned the scholar as a person who would do whatever possible to communicate ideas to the world, not just fellow intellectuals."

Click here to order the book: Pitch Perfect: Communicating With Traditional and Social Media for Scholars, Researchers, and Academic Leaders.

Follow Bill Tyson on Twitter: @BTysonPitchPerf


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