Skip to content

Communicating in the Media

2011 January 14
by breyan

This morning I was asked to participate in interMédias, a radio show that analyzes media on the Belgium french-speaking public channel, la Première. I had done some radio news during my time as a journalism student at ULB. Not much live broadcasting though, especially not with the audience of the RTBF!

The reason I was asked to participate in interMédias is the result of a series of encounters and makes me wonder about the relation between researchers and the media and how academics intervene in the media.

Less than a year ago, a journalist from Imagine demain le monde contacted me to prepare a cover on internet and politics, especially citizen mobilizations. I didn’t know where she found my name as I had not intervened publicly – besides academic conferences – on my dissertation subject previously. As it seemed a good exercise to communicate to a non-academic audience, I of course accepted. My supervisor François Heinderyckx had recommended me as he was interviewed for the issue.

Months later, I was contacted by GSARA, a ‘movement of permanent education’, asking me to speak at a reflexion day about the use of the internet for activism in September 2010. There I met not only a campaigner from the French-speaking Human Rights League who later on asked me to write a short essay for their Chronique but also a director from the RTBF. The latter contacted me last week asking for a meeting to prepare the televised version of interMédias. Shortly after our encounter, the radio then contacted me. And here I am, just thinking back about the broadcasted debate this morning.

It feels good to be able to share and discuss one’s research domain with journalists, knowing that they will report it more widely than any academic paper will ever do. This part of the exercise really satisfies some academic frustration, you know when you have the feeling nobody cares about the topic of your research. Finally somebody – and not just anybody – does seem to care.

However, as internet and politics is such a hype subject, it’s a real challenge to analyze it in the media. All types of activism are regularly mixed up together, the internet is not considered a ‘real’ space and ‘online’ activism less worthy than ‘offline’ action. Yet, there is an implicit fascination with the technology and its potentialities for democratic societies.

There are no easy answers to the questions posed by the use of media for political engagement. A discussion with a journalist is long enough to explain the phenomenon in some depth. A short essay can be rewritten and improved so that it reflects a balanced perspective on the issue. Radio and television is another story. What I like very much is the discussion style and the fact that different participants intervene and provide complementary perspectives. Also internet users can ask live questions and – maybe – receive a compelling answer. However, the time to answer questions to which I’d instinctively feel inclined to say ‘it depends’ (on the context, the actors involved, the tools used, etc.) is real short and probably asks for training. The question to which it comes down is basically how can you, as a researcher, explain a very complex phenomena in 1-2 minutes? I’m not sure I want to speak longer – what is more annoying than a professor monopolizing the attention for 20 minutes or more? It ultimately leads to finding the right balance between both as often.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.