I was recently invited to speak on a microgeneration panel at the Science Media Centre. The idea of these briefings is to provide the media with an opportunity to ask experts about scientific issues making the news. There’s been a lot of interest in microgeneration recently and so this particular briefing was well-attended with representatives from the Times, Mirror, Daily Mail, New Scientist, Guardian, Reuters and BBC (one each from radio, TV and online – don’t they check first to see whether someone else is going too?).
The briefing started with each of the four panel members giving a 5 minute talk on our particular areas of expertise. The follow-up questions then went on for about half an hour and focused mainly on the performance of individual microgeneration technologies, particularly microwind.
Overall I think everyone was pleased with how things turned out and the next day, articles were published in the Mail, Mirror and Times. Two things struck me about the experience:
- There was very little advocacy from the panel and we agreed that microgeneration is not a solution by itself but an important step towards a low-carbon future to be taken in conjunction with other easier and cheapier efficiency measures. Most of the articles communicated this well: the Times headline for example was “Want to save the planet? It’s your little changes that mean the most”.
- The Times also managed to condense my research accurately into one sentence: “Main effect of solar panels is in making residents more conscious of their consumption of electricity, encouraging them to alter their lifestyles”. To think that I spent the better part of two months writing an academic paper that will likely be read by a dozen people, when those 22 words will reach over 600,000 with almost the same message.
So I guess my faith in the media has been partially restored. Though incidentally when I picked up the Times I noticed that, like the Guardian, it claims to be “newspaper of the year”. Near as I can tell the Times hasn’t won in the past 12 years!