I am currently producing a short, animated video about the flu virus that I intend to either sell, or publish right here on Science of the Times. I had wanted to include a video interview with a flu virus researcher and had lined up Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, co-chair of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Last week, a day before the interview was scheduled, Mount Sinai’s PR department stepped in and killed the interview, citing the fact that I was not contracted by a major media outlet and was producing the video independently. According to Mt. Sinai’s PR person this is their “policy.”
This wasn’t first time I had encountered such a roadblock. As a student in the SHERP program at NYU, I had been shut out by the New York City Health Department for the simple fact that I was a student. This was despite the fact that I was reporting for SHERP’s award-winning website Scienceline.org.
In my opinion, blanket PR policies like these are outdated and ignore the current reality in the media industry. The truth is that most media organizations are shrinking and many quality journalists are now freelancing and blogging independently. Wide distribution is no longer limited to a handful of powerful media organizations and anyone could potentially publish a “hit” article or video on the web.
I can understand the viewpoint of Mt. Sinai’s PR department–they want the most bang for their buck. They don’t want to waste their researcher’s time on every Tom, Dick and Harry with a camcorder. But I would argue that instead of a blanket policy that excludes a growing chunk of the fourth estate, every interview request should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Despite the fact that I told the PR person that I have academic background in science journalism and have published many science and health-related stories, I was still excluded because of Mt. Sinai’s “policy.” Sure, a news story produced by a big media organization might reach more people, but who’s to say that it would be the kind of high-quality science journalism that Mt. Sinai Medical Center would want to associate itself with?
Therefore, my message to all the science and health PR people out there is instead of creating blanket policies that exclude, look at the background of the person who wants to cover your institution (i.e. what have they produced in the past, who have they worked for, what are their credentials, how fair and accurate are they?) Don’t ask whether the reporter or producer will reach the most people but whether they will reach them in the right way, on whatever platform is available.