Reporting on Psychology

Audrey Hamilton

Audrey Hamilton

Audrey Hamilton
Public Affairs Associate, American Psychological Association
ahamilton@apa.org

I may have begun my career in journalism, but I always found psychology fascinating. My first job after college almost 18 years ago was reporting for a local television station in a small city in Washington State. I was just a run of the mill general assignment reporter who covered fires, murders, murder trials, and the occasional city council meeting. My second job was as the health news reporter at the #2 station in Providence, Rhode Island. It was there I realized this was where I could possibly have an impact on people’s lives. This stuck with me when I left journalism to pursue a career in public relations.

Now, nine years later, I love nothing more than interviewing and working with all kinds of psychologists. But the ones who know best how to communicate about their profession to a general audience – well, now you’ve got my attention.

These days, health and science news is constantly under attack for being too “click-baity” and short on scientific evidence. When I’m looking for a psychologist to interview for our general audience podcast, “Speaking of Psychology,” I need an expert who can present the science in digestible morsels. Some may think that’s dumbing down the profession, but I think it’s what draws people to understand what psychological science is and how it works.

Technology and social media outlets are making it easier for psychologists to reach an audience. Arthur C. Evans, PhD, the new CEO of APA, is embarking on a concerted effort to make psychology and psychologists more visible. In my conversation with him a few years ago he said “it’s time to change how people perceive and receive mental health services.” As we know, stigma is a very real obstacle to making mental health services accessible and useful.

As CEO, another of Evans’s priorities is making sure APA stays on top of the latest trends in psychology, including such emerging technologies as mental health apps, artificial intelligence, and even big data. He wants to make sure psychology is on the leading edge of the research, and I hope APA can help him communicate his vision.

As an expert in media and technology, you are already ahead of the game. For example, reporters are constantly looking for stories about the psychology of smart phones, technology, and social media. This year is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone launch and reporters are doing think pieces about how much our behavior, relationships, and health have all changed because of our little portable computers.

We help reporters find psychologists who can comment on such stories as those. If you’re not already aware, APA’s Office of Public Affairs uses a database called the Media Referral Service (MRS) which helps us direct the nation’s news media to psychologists with expertise on a wide variety of timely issues. As journalists on constant deadline, often several times a day, churning out stories for the web, broadcast, social media, and print, we have to be responsive; this database allows us to do that. Anyone who is an APA member is invited to be a part of that so please contact us if you would like to apply to be an MRS expert. While we refer several experts for a story, the ones who we see quoted most often are the ones who are responsive via cell phone and email.

We’ve also made it easier for you to remain current with how psychology is represented in the media. If you are an APA member, you can access the Weekly News Digest. Delivered via email each week, the digest features a sampling of articles from mainstream news media featuring APA, its publications, members, and psychology in general. Click here and login to MyAPA to subscribe. There are no ads or fees, just an interesting look at psychology in the news.

We’re always looking for new ways to promote psychology to the general public. Do you have graphics, visuals, even a Spark video to go along with your press release or your pitch? Yes, please and thank you. However, what we find to be most important is the ability to substantiate everything with science. When we’re pitching reporters, for example, we want to have the latest yet to be published psychological research or they won’t even read past the first sentence of our email.

Sound bites, if you’re speaking with a broadcast reporter, and short concise quotes are key if you want your message to be heard. When we’re prepping our staff or other members for media interviews, we make sure they have a list of the key points they want to make and have them practice speaking them out loud. Awkward? Yes, but necessary. Don’t write out a script, but write down a few key sentences and refer to them during the interview if necessary. When appropriate don’t be afraid to get personal with a reporter. A well-rounded interview and story will present the facts as well as a little anecdote about yourself or your work. Maybe they’ll edit it out later, but it can help them feel more comfortable with you.

This is an exciting and challenging time for the media and psychology. Since I joined APA in 2008, so much has changed in how we promote what psychology is and what it does. We are bombarded with information and it can be hard to break through the “noise” with credible information. You have a unique opportunity as media psychologists to help people see how psychology can and does make a difference in people’s lives.

 

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