In the 1970s the British Psychological Society, after much soul searching, decided that it would engage with the Fourth Estate, a term attributed to Edmund Burke in a 1787 debate on the first Press reporting of Parliament. The distaste shown by Parliamentarians for reporters had not diminished in genteel circles two centuries later, and many psychologists looked on the Press Committee as the embodiment of a lamentable lapse in standards, a headlong rush into simplistic pandering to the mob.
Undaunted, a group of reformist psychologists began to learn the arts of the Press Release, and a few carefully selected quality press journalists began appearing at annual conferences, reporting on chosen papers. My first encounter was in 1975 when I gave a paper on training medical students to interview patients, and got some press coverage and a BBC Radio 4 interview. Not only was this my first ever interview, but also the first time the British Psychological Society officer had ever seen a radio interview conducted, so she came to the studio with me, just for the experience.
In that session I learned the basics: the apparent instant camaraderie between interviewer and talking head, as if they were old friends chatting together about a topic of mutual interest; the skilful introduction of the basic issues by the interviewer, which set the scene and teed up the audience interest; the need for absolute simplicity in giving answers; and then the final playful sucker punch of the well-briefed interviewer, picking a minor finding to spring a question which showed the audience he knew the details of the research and could challenge the expert. At the end of the interview the radio show host came back on a direct line to say cheerily “That went very well” so I felt I had done my public duty, and launched my media career. The next interview turned up 5 years later.
After that TV interview in 1980 things picked up a bit, and the British Psychological Society’s investment in understanding the needs of journalists gave psychology far greater visibility. Even the diehards were convinced it would boost public understanding, and probably help raise if not awareness, at least research funding.
Even now I still get the odd request for a radio or television interview, which allows me to set you a task: suppose you get a request to explain why two women have murdered one of the women’s young sons. I got such a request, and immediately replied that I could not give a full answer to the big question: why did they do it? However, I could suggest some contributory factors. I outlined a few, and although I was already looking up the case, I asked to be sent a link to the story.
Here is that article on the Liam Fee case;
Use this link as a stimulus and your own knowledge and research to work out what to say, and send me very brief key points. At most you will be able to mention a few pieces of research, and will have to take your chances with replies to some very general but pointed questions. Usually you will get about 4 minutes, and 5 if things are going well.
Then, and this is only one possible approach, and certainly not a model answer, but just a quick reply based on some old data and one new reference, here is what I said:
The interview starts at 01:13:12 and ends at 01:24:10 which at 11 minutes is probably one of the longest radio interviews I have ever done. However, it was local radio, and they have more time.