Practical Tips

10 tips on working with the media

Optimizing the impact of your journal

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There are many criteria that a journal editor might use to evaluate how effective they are in their role. We might look at the number of manuscripts being submitted, the quality and number of articles reaching publication, the number of article downloads, the financial status and a strong income, or the journal Impact Factor. However, I would argue that while these elements all have their part to play, liaising with the media on a regular basis should be a key element of running any scientific journal. When the media runs news articles about research published in a journal, it not only helps to raise the profile of the journal, but also brings that research message to a much wider audience.

Top Tip

One good guide as to whether a research message has media potential is whether you yourself would read a short article on this in a newspaper or magazine on Sunday morning with your coffee if it were nothing to do with your own area of academic interest.

What makes an article newsworthy?

The newsworthy nature of a research paper may be any one of a range of factors. It does not have to be better research than the rest, but what is key is that the topic appeals to the broad public. Using examples from my own field of ancient diseases, the media are looking for the exciting topic (e.g. a massacre or epidemic), an exciting context (e.g. Roman gladiators or crusader knights), a famous person (e.g. a named king, or other important historical figure), religious, medical or cultural importance (e.g. a skeletal case of Roman crucifixion), or its ability to redefine a field (e.g. earliest example of mummification in Egypt, or earliest sacrificial bodies from South America). Some such topics would be of interest across the world, while others may be of interest to just one country. For example, research on early Chinese States may be of interest to the Chinese media even if not the rest of the world.

I started to target the media about a decade ago and have learnt how to do so using trial and error. I would have found it very useful if I have been aware of a simple guide to help me get started. This is a 10 step guide that I hope will be of use to those in the Elsevier family who are not already familiar with how to build up a constructive relationship with the media.

10 step guide

  1. Journal editor/associate editor can identify articles that look like they would have wide media interest at an early stage - at initial acceptance. Add a section in the journal guidance for authors stating that if an author feels their article would be newsworthy in the media, they should discuss this with the journal editor on acceptance of their article.
  2. Create a press release with the authors before publication. It needs to focus on one key message as to why that research is of interest to the general public. Contact details for those authors available to give radio and TV interviews should be included (email and phone details). It should also be made clear if particular parts of the world would have special interest in the research. Your journal’s marketing communications manager can also help with this step liaising with Elsevier’s Newsroom. Read more here.
  3. Compile a group of 4-5 color images that can be sent to or downloaded by journalists with the press release. If including images from the article to be published, make sure you send the journalists the wording of the caption required to meet your copyright obligations, and that Elsevier has given permission to use them.
  4. To coordinate distribution of the press release you can either work with the lead author’s university press office, with Elsevier’s Newsroom or both - to make maximum use of news distribution channels available from both organizations.
  5. Plan the publication date to coincide with a key event if possible. This might be a conference where it will be presented for the first time, especially if it’s one where the media are present (such as the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, or the British Science Festival), or where the work is being broadcasted in a TV program. However, this will not always be practical.
  6. Make sure the press release is sent to a range of journalists that are interested in your field, about two weeks before publication. These should include the major networks such as Reuters and Associated Press, but also journalists working in news networks and blogs dedicated to your field. Note: Your marketing communications manager can also help with this step. Also see point 4.
  7. Ideally the press release should be under embargo until the date the article will first be published online on ScienceDirect. Journalists find it more exciting to write about ‘breaking news’. State the embargo ends at midnight at the start of the day the article is published online. Journalists understand not to publish before the date of the embargo. Note: as soon as the paper has been accepted for publishing in the journal, already start to work closely with your Elsevier journal (marketing) manager to establish and confirm a date the paper should first appear online (the embargo date). It’s easier to label a research paper as “embargoed” early in the automated publishing process, than later on.
  8. You don’t want to flood journalists with press releases or else they will lose their impact. For many journals releasing one every two months might be about right, but Nature and The Lancet might release one each week. However, the main determining factor is the likely degree of public interest in the message of the article. This may mean delaying publication for a few weeks if you get two articles that are both worthy of media interest.
  9. Share the paper on Twitter and other social media channels when it first appears online on ScienceDirect. Your journal marketing communications manager can also post it on the subject-specific Elsevier social media channels. Note: If the research paper is not published as an open access paper, your marketing communications manager can open it up for a set timeframe as promotional access. This means that journalists can link to the paper in their articles and the public can read the full paper too.
  10. Have a section on your journal homepage entitled the ‘our top articles in the news’ to highlight the media interest in the research published in the journal. You might like to include links to the highest profile stories in top tier media publications (e.g. online versions of quality newspapers and TV channels). Certainly keep a record yourself of where the stories come out, so you can target the same journalists in the future when you have another good story for them. Journalists often don’t remember to tell you when they have published your story, but you can find the media articles most easily by typing in key words from the article title, or the heading of the press release on your favorite search engine and seeing what comes up in your search. The Elsevier Newsroom can also help to do tailored searches for news coverage.

Did you know?

Editor ToolkitYour marketing communications manager can also help with various aspects of attracting media to your journal. If you encounter a potentially newsworthy article please contact him/her directly or email:

We also have an Editor Tookit with more tips on how you can promote your journal here>>

Journals focusing on different topics will clearly need an approach that suits their needs, and can pick and choose the elements that are likely to work best for them. However, using the media in a positive way helps to increase awareness in the general public of the academic fields about which we are passionate. It also raises the profile of our own journals as academics realize the work published there is getting more attention than that in other journals. This can then trigger a spiral of improvement where better quality work is submitted, more articles are quoted elsewhere, Impact Factor rises, more subscribers buy in to the journal, and all those measures of success discussed at the start of this article improve. So long as we do it well, there is no reason why we should not all be engaging with the media more. It’s time to get started and move your journal ahead of the others in your field.

Elsevier Newsroom

Working with science journalists across the globe, throughout the year we promote published research that we believe will appeal to the general public. At the same time we also work directly with authors and with university press offices to coordinate press releases of research papers of their choice.

Follow on Twitter: @ElsevierNews | @ElsevierConnect


Author biography

Piers MitchellPiers Mitchell teaches biological anthropology at the University of Cambridge, UK, where he undertakes research into ancient diseases. He is Associate Editor of theInternational Journal of Paleopathology, and the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Piers is Editor-in-Chief of the Cambridge Texts in Human Bioarchaeology book series, and is currently President of the Paleopathology Association (the worldwide organization for the study of disease in the past).

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