Dr. Rosemary Stanton’s 8 Best Practices for Dealing with the Media
By Laura Byrne, Dietitian Connection newsletter editor
When you’re the author of 30+ books on food and nutrition, over 3,000 articles for print media and countless scientific papers, it’s safe to say the media will seek you out for expert commentary.
Dr. Rosemary Stanton has accomplished all of the above, and can speak across an extensive range of nutrition and food-related subjects.
But her appeal to the media extends well beyond simply being a “talking head”: she is noted for her independent viewpoints, and can be counted on for a real – not canned – sound bite.
Media outlets appreciate this informed candor, especially when they’re often spoon-fed a string of “commentators” who stick to a script.
In short – Rosemary is a breath of fresh air in any news cycle.
We were particularly interested, then, in the advice she shared with us at Dietitian Day on dealing with the media. Here are eight best practices from Rosemary for dietitians who are called upon by news outlets to offer their viewpoint:
1. Be ready to go – now. When the media call on you, whether it’s for a 6am radio show or a quote in the next day’s paper, be prepared to speak on the topic [often immediately] with confidence and fluency. Journalists live on deadlines, and if you’re not ready to serve as an expert, they’ll move on to someone else – who may not be as informed, and could spread misinformation.
2. Stay on top of current issues in the news cycle. Keep up with nutrition topics that interest consumers, from paleo to sugar to gluten-free diets. Understand the ins and outs of each trend, and be prepared to counter (or support) with your educated, evidence-based point of view. Recognise that media are drawn to the hot topics that consumers are buzzing about – don’t try to fight this, but instead be prepared to join the conversation, calling upon your expertise and scientific background.
3. Not your area of expertise? Refer a colleague. Don’t try to speak on a topic that you’re not informed about just to get airtime or print column inches. Instead, graciously refer the media outlet to a colleague who may be better suited. This will reflect well on the overall nutrition industry, too.
4. Speak simply. As a professional dietitian, you have an extensive science background, and you should call upon that to answer media questions with evidence-based research. However, remember your audience: if they’re general consumers, they likely don’t have the same science background. As such, answer questions posed to you by the media in everyday speak, so that your advice is relatable and understandable.
5. Just answer the question. Journalists often are faced with extensively media-trained experts. While public speaking is an excellent skill to be acquired, evading a question or answering with a pat, scripted answer may frustrate a media outlet. They seek colour, life and a great sound bite. So the next time a reporter asks you a question, and your brain starts to frantically search for the answer you learned in media training – take a deep breath and respond off the cuff, based on the knowledge you’ve acquired.
6. Be brave. Don’t be afraid to take on celebrities and critics, when necessary. Accredited dietitians sometimes have to confront dissenters – or what Rosemary calls “spreaders of misinformation”. Rely on your training and education, and never be afraid to challenge – with evidence.
7. Do some sharing with non-dietitians. Dietitians, Rosemary feels, should avoid being “keepers” of information”. It’s important to engage with those who have dissenting opinions, to exchange points of view, compromise and– where possible – agree to disagree, in the interest of a greater cause, such as public health. You may find yourself going head to head in an article or broadcast segment with someone who has a different viewpoint – but finding common ground can benefit those consumers who are receiving your messages.
8. Skip the traditional gatekeepers and engage in consumer journalism. The world of social media has changed journalism entirely: now, consumers can share news and viewpoints directly with one another, without the media serving as a filter or middleman. This, as you can imagine, brings both pros and cons: misinformation can be rampant, but the healthy dialogue also allows the introduction of many varying points of view. Consider jumping in where existing discussions are already taking place, to contribute your point of view and expertise. For example, Rosemary is active on The Conversation, where she joins people from around the globe in talking about nutrition topics.
View Rosemary’s articles and activity on The Conversation here.