August 24, 2020 | Published by |

by Alvin Stone
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on our media communications. Despite this, I have been impressed by not only the amount of research that has appeared over the past four months via research briefs and also by how much better our researcher are getting at recognising what is a newsworthy for the general public.

And we had a number of important media releases that made it onto the national and international stage, which were brought to me early by the researchers. Key among these was a CLEX led media release on the fundamental international research led by Steve Sherwood that narrowed the range of climate sensitivity. The paper published in Reviews of Geophysics included 25 authors from multiple institutions came via the WCRP and AGU. Generally, the international media around a paper like this is co-ordinated via a central organisation but for some reason this was not the case here. In the end, we developed a media release with a focus on CLEX and then distributed this to the authors institutions but it would certainly be worth considering that the WCRP consider being the central point of coordination in the future. Despite these handicaps, the paper made an international splash, appearing in many of the world’s leading media outlets.

Another media release worthy of note for its media reach, focused on a paper led by Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick showing increasing heatwave trends. The paper included a new cumulative heat metric that drew international attention. This was a case of extreme statistics capturing the imagination of editors.  

One of the smartest ways to attract media coverage is through opportunistic media, which is the ability to spot a current event and contact a news outlet to shape a story through expert commentary. PhD student Kim Reid, who investigates atmospheric rivers in the Southern Hemisphere is proving to be a deft hand at this. As a large cold front approached the west coast of Australia, Kim spotted the tell-tail signs of an atmospheric river extending from the tropics right down to the Southern tip of Western Australia. By dropping a line to Peter Hannam, she turned what could have been a simple story about a storm battering the coast into an opportunity to talk about her area of expertise and get it in the headline, Atmospheric river’ 2000km long wallops Western Australia, heads east. This is a great way to make our science the subject of water cooler talk. Kim followed this story up with a blog post that dug down into the detail of atmospheric rivers and then two months later ABC online treated her as the resident expert and sought out more information on atmospheric rivers in a story by Ben Deacon. As we have seen in the past, if you are the person making expert commentary in the media, then you become the expert every time a similar event occurs.

Internally, you may have noticed that the Weekly Update has been undergoing some changes in response to the pandemic. We have added mental health support networks from each university partner, regular catch-ups for those who just need to talk to someone and our seminars are now in a single list as they all move online. It is likely we will keep many of these changes post-COVID.

Make sure to keep a weather eye on the Weekly Update as we will be planning an online cross Centre of Excellence media training workshop before the year is out. We had suspended these in light of the pandemic, but I am now in active discussions with two other Centre of Excellence to explore how we can deliver an active and engaging workshop online.

Until the next newsletter, please take every opportunity to alert me to any communication ideas you may have and stay well. I look forward to the time when he can once again all meet in the same room.