02 August, 2010

Week 2 1/2 - In which my friends appear on the radio

As I blogged earlier, with the programme I've mainly been working on it can be a little while before stories make it out there. I spotted a press release about a story I knew something about and (perhaps because I spoke so clearly and intelligently about it, perhaps because it also appealed to him, or perhaps because he could see I was potty about it and there was no shutting me up) one of the producers let me loose on it. Unlike the other stories I've been working on - including other ones on psychology - I do know all the ins and outs and minor details of this one, so this one came with major warnings about not getting technical and making sure it was all accessible to the general listener.

To start off with we were thinking we'd interview the author of the paper, plus someone who is in the US and does related brain imaging work. But the author is in the North of England - and wasn't at first thinking of coming down to London for the programme - which meant that both of the interviewees would be on a line. It's possible to do that but it's not ideal and you can usually tell. As an aside, I didn't go into the studio for this week's recording but listened to it while it was on - and one of the interviewees was in a studio and kept bumping the mike - it was really obvious, at least to me.

So the plan then was to get a friend/colleague of mine, who is a really chatty and enthusiastic person, who had gushed to me about how great the atricle was, and who works in London, to appear - while the author would be in the Newcastle studio. But in the end everything worked out even better, as the author came down for the day from Newcastle.

I wrote questions for both of them, rang them up and took down their answers - with dire warnings about "forget it's me, pretend it's your granny, or you're showing a school kid round the department, blah blah" - they were both very good when they were talking to me. They were extremely excellent when they came on the show (though I know the Newcastle researcher was a little nervous, she ended up making a joke that was, I think, better than the presenter's) and a good time was had by all.

A lot of the rest of the week was spent trying to find stories for future programmes, again. We had a couple of leads, one of which was a story about fossils, and in fact was research done by someone who'll be doing the same placement as me in a few weeks' time. The producer was fairly sure it would be a very popular story though - it's no good running something that everyone else has run, especially if they do it on a Monday and your show is on a Thursday. This turned out to be the case. Fortunately for everyone, the researcher was bored of going on the radio!

Another one was a story about marine life that was very cool - but there were two problems. One was the same as the fossil story - too much likely media coverage. And the other was the same as the bacteria painting - too visual.

So, I ended up researching yet another story - which isn't out yet. But I'll give you a taster. It's quite a cool story and though it's a psychology story, it's about science in general. I saw an article I really liked, on someone else's blog, and the producer said "hmm, interesting, bit philosophical, and really, stop plugging psychology already! is it topical?". The story was only out last month so that's OK on our programme, and then I spotted a book in the huge pile we have in the office which was by another psychologist, also out last month, and very relevant.

So, I got in touch with the first guy and then waited to see if I'd hear from him - he's in the US. And although working on science radio over the summer is great in one way, because weird and wacky stories get on, in another way it's bloomin' frustrating. How dare scientists take holidays! How dare US universities have 3 month summer breaks?

(Incidentally, if you ever send a book for review to a scientific journal - and I knew this already as I used to do reviews editing - probably about a 1 in 4 chance it will get read and reviewed. And half of them aren't relevant for the journal, so if it's relevant, let's say 1 in 2. If you send it to a media outlet? well let's just say there's a very very long shelf of unread books here...)

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