Ghosts don’t frighten me…but the media does!
Today I attended a workshop run by Women in Journalism Scotland who do some excellent work training, mentoring and encouraging women in the media. I took part not because I am a journalist but because if I’m honest the media makes me a little nervous. My nerves are not necessarily about appearing on camera, giving an interview on air or being quoted in an article, I have done some of those things before. You see what unnerves me is the context…my area of expertise is the paranormal, and that comes with baggage!
It’s a hugely frustrating piece of baggage (the kind where you take your holdall and after hours of lugging it around train stations and airports wish you had purchased a wheely bag…but also kind of know that a wheely bag doesn’t get you to the same exciting places as one you can carry, adventure-like, on your shoulder…). Its frustrating because I know I am knowledgeable in my field, I have been involved in the area for over 10 years and received a PhD in the topic. I also know that there are some really interesting and engaging conversations to have and although I am comfortable talking to peers, colleagues and my students about it I still find myself nervous of having such conversations through the media. The paranormal unfortunately is a topic ‘haunted’ by its past, and current popularisation. It has a history of sensationalised cases that have hit the media and then turned out to be either fake or misunderstood. In recent years the rise of paranormal TV, film and representation on social media has left its scars and the paranormal has found its place in entertainment rather than perceived as a serious topic of research. The question of “is it real?” and “do you believe?” has dominated debate and opinion, and those who research the area are often considered ghostbusters regardless of their focus. It’s credibility as a discipline is, perhaps understandably, sometimes questioned.
This is a shame. There are some fascinating studies that explore the Supernatural and it’s role in our society beyond questions of belief or existence (not that these are bad questions!). However, I fear that like myself some people will be nervous about sharing this research with the public through the media. I am an academic, and I understand that whatever opinion I give or research I share reflects on my academic credibility, as well as the University I represent. I am nervous that the newspaper headline will read Ghostbuster Lecturer…or an interview will be accompanied by spooky sound effects in the background…the usual clichés. However, after attending the event today I have realised something – the only way to tackle this issue is for experts in this area to lead the way and shape the conversation.
I raised my concerns at the event today to a panel of journalists and explained my area of expertise and why I was concerned. It was lovely to see the excitement that this kind of topic brings when people hear that the paranormal is your area of study – I encounter it quite a lot and this is positive! They sympathised with my plight but also provided some good tips (for both this topic and more generally) that I thought would be useful to share. This advice is from industry professionals working in the media and journalism, and whilst I am yet to try these out, I hope they will be useful for others considering sharing their research.
8 Tips for Talking Ghosts (or indeed anything else…)
1. Do your research into the publication/ media outlet. Tabloids are likely to sensationalise and there may be specific media outlets that work with your topic (for instance my research into haunted heritage may receive a better write up with someone like BBC History).
2. Be honest and communicate the parameters you would like to talk within. If you are not comfortable talking about an area raise this in advance, a good journalist will adhere to this. This it seems is particularly important in the paranormal world – I often find that everyone assumes you are a parapsychologist in the field, and often ask psychology based questions, even if this is not your area of study.
3. Ask for either the questions or general ‘jist’ of the interview in advance. Again, most journalists should at least be able to give you a feel for the direction of the interview.
4. Prepare. Particularly think of any challenging questions that could be asked and how you will respond.
5. Don’t feel that you have to answer everything. If you are unsure be honest and explain in the interview that this is not your area of expertise.
6. Think about what the key message is you want to communicate and make sure you get this across. Interviews may be short or cut off quickly so you want to get your ‘sound bite’ in when you can.
7. You can say no. If your not comfortable doing the interview or with the outlet it will be published in you can say no, other opportunities are likely to arise.
8. Be proactive. If you want to be a spokesperson for your area of research seek out opportunities in places you would like your voice to be heard.
I hope these tips are useful. I certainly found the sessions helpful, and will be using this advice in the future if media opportunities arise. Please do feel free to discuss any experiences you have had with the media and paranormal below, or indeed share your own advice on the topic.