How do you communicate complicated research and what are journalists looking for? These were a few of the questions tackled by Science Communicator in Residence Molly Segal in the Faculty of Science and CBC Radio’s “Quirks & Quarks” producer Sonya Buyting at a workshop last week, “Taxonomy of an Audio Story: How Radio Journalists and Podcasters Make Stories out of Science.”
Segal says she’s looking for tension when telling a story. A scientist is doing a study, but there is a hurdle or a risk of something going wrong or pressure to accomplish some vital research before time runs out, for instance. As a radio journalist for CBC and others, Segal often goes out into the field with researchers to get a first-hand glimpse of what they do, recording audio along the way.
As Buyting puts it, there needs to be a statement of enticement. So what’s at stake and what is the person’s motivation? She says she is also looking for a “wow” factor to hook the listener.
“It is 12 o’clock on a Saturday and someone’s doing the dishes, so we have to get their interest over the dishes and lunch…. For me to listen to something top to bottom, I want to hear something interesting out of the scientist’s mouth right away,” she said.
Another tip, said Segal, is to humanize your science. It helps bring the listener in and engages them in the story.
Segal also gave grad students and researchers the lowdown on how to give a good interview, especially for radio. Analogies, she said, are great at helping the general public visualize the research and can go a long way to boosting interest in the story, and making complex ideas more accessible.
But also, added Buyting, speaking in plain language and having a regular conversation without the jargon is important. She wants to hear the researcher’s journey to discovery and the passion they feel toward their subject area. “What is behind your intense curiosity? What’s behind your passion?” And you don’t need to be an extrovert to express passion.
And, said Segal, “Take me somewhere I can’t go to normally.”
Whether it’s a difficult-to-get-to mountain range or a room full of really cool specimens. Or, perhaps, it’s not a physical location, but through interesting sounds into the imagination of the listener.
“Radio is about using your imagination to get somewhere,” said Buyting.
Sounds can help transport you there. She told the audience to capture video of themselves doing their research or looking at the results for the first time if possible. Those audio bites can help radio journalists paint a better picture.
In the end, said Buyting, the goal “is to make our audiences as excited about science as we possibly can.”
Segal is at the Faculty of Science until the end of November. More details about the York Science Communicator in Residence program can be found at science.yorku.ca/scicomm.