Stempra Scotland

12th June 2018

By Kate Mcallister

We are really pleased to report that our first big Stempra Scotland event in recent memory – held at the University of Edinburgh in May – was a success! As well as a brilliant line-up of speakers, we hosted around 45 press officers and science communication professionals from all over the UK, representing universities, charities and government.

After a warm welcome from Stempra chair, Claire Hastings, we were treated to a sneak peak of results from Cardiff University’s Head of Psychology, Professor Petroc Sumner, who gave us a hot off the press insight into findings from the first ever randomised control trial of language used in press releases. The findings stimulated some brilliant discussion of responsible communications afterwards, which was useful for the researchers as well as us press officers. Stay tuned for the results of Petroc’s paper, which are due be submitted for publication in the coming months.

Next up was a brilliant talk from Tracy Playle, CEO of the Newcastle-based education content company, Pickle Jar Communications. Tracy gave us an amazing whistle-stop tour of storytelling, touching on varied ways to use all kinds of media to tell research stories, from audio clips to art installations. One top tip was not to shy away from long form video, people are prepared to watch 50 minutes if the content is good quality. There was a real buzz in the room after the session.

Following Tracy, we had a session on public confidence in research reporting and we heard from Joe Clift from the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS). Joe focused on reporting the findings of a recent AMS report about public trust in medical research and the key role press officers have to play in improving it. Fiona Lethbridge talked about the new labelling system for press releases, which the Science Media Centre was asked to develop by the AMS. Claire Hastings spoke about Stempra’s intention to produce best practice principles for press officers. This was another session that generated a lot of discussion afterwards.

After lunch we were into our panel sessions and the first was a great discussion on the age-old embargo debate. Shane Canning represented F1000 and pre-print servers, the Sun’s Shaun Wooller gave the journalist perspective and Prof Tara Spires-Jones gave her insights as a scientist, with Claire flying the flag for press officers. The take home message seemed to be from Shaun who encouraged us not to panic about living in a world without embargoes – coverage will always follow a great story, whether its embargoed or not.

There was a lot of excitement for our final session – Meet the Journalists – where Shaun was joined by BBC science journalist Ken MacDonald and Daily Mail health reporter Kate Foster. Top take-aways from this session included tips to send over a head shot of the scientists with a press release and including the original paper alongside in emails to media contacts. There was a lively back and forth during the session touching on everything from the best days to send out a press release (Ken likes a Sunday for Monday) to dealing with some academics’ reluctance to be published in the red tops. Jen Middleton closed the day before some well-deserved wine and a chance to network.

Stempra are hoping to build on the momentum in Scotland – including a Christmas night out – but if you would like to organise another event or networking meeting before then, please email Kate at kmcallister@stempra.org.uk. You can catch up on some of the Twitter chat for the day using the #StempraScotland hashtag.

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