In the past six months, I have had countless conversations with academics about getting the press to pick up their research. They've spent years and years studying and writing about a particular topic and then only five people end up reading their papers. There are a lot of reasons for this gap between academic writing and journalism. The articles are hidden behind a paywall. The academic writing style can be daunting to read. Academics don't know how to reach out to the press.
I fielded so many questions from professor-friends about this topic that I tried to convince an editor-friend to become a consultant for academics looking to publicize their work. She thought about it for a fraction of a second and then said no. She said that she hated to hurt people's feelings and she thought that most academics have unrealistic expectations about their research. "If I will write it, they will come." Uh, no.
Let me just share some advice that I've handed out lately.
1. If you've written a book, then turn the first chapter into an article. Take out the jargon, the methodology section, the literature review, pomposity, all of the charts, and make it fun. Then send an e-mail to the editors of the mainstream magazines that publish articles aimed at the educated audience. The e-mail should include a snappy subject line, two or three paragraphs that sum up the article, and a short bio. If you don't hear back from the editor in a day, then he/she isn't interested. Send it somewhere else.
2. Get the names of the reporters and writers who write about your particular topic. Send them the paper. In the e-mail, tell them why your research is important and how it fits into a hot topic. Nobody is going to write an article based entirely on your research. They want your research to boost an article about a hot topic.
3. Let me repeat myself. Find out the names of writers and bloggers who write about your topic. Follow them on Twitter. Send them your research, because the paywall won't let them find it otherwise. For example, I love writing about political-sociology, parenting, autism, education, and public policy. If you have reseach in those areas, I will write about it. I don't write about all areas of political science. I won't do voting data or foreign policy, but there are plenty of journalists who do. Find them.
4. You have to work as your own publicity agent. Well, everyone does these days. My twitterfeed is full of people pushing their writing. That's cool. I read a good chunk of those articles and RT many of them. All this networking takes time. You can't just set up a twitter account and make your first tweet be about your research. You have to build your network first. Show good will by RT-ing other people's work. You have play nicely in the sandbox.
5. If your research is very, very narrow, then you have to tell the journalist how it fits into the bigger picture. You might have to include references to other papers and books. You want to make it as easy for them as possible.
More thoughts from John Sides.