In my spare time I’m a bit of a film buff, so naturally I was absolutely thrilled to be asked by the Film Section of the UK Critics’ Circle to tweet live from the red carpet and press room at their annual London Film Critics Circle Awards – what an honour!
Jean Dujardin and Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
New Year’s Resolutions are all very worthy – give up smoking, go to the gym, stop eating junk food, take up a new hobby, etc… I propose to you all doing one thing which will CHANGE YOUR WORLD in 2012 – take up tweeting!
When the news broke on Friday that a new Icelandic eruption could be on the way ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15995845a new Icelandic eruption could be on the way), it didn’t take long for it to spread.
This hasn’t always been the case. In its early years, the physics of geological communication was simple – involving nothing more than oscillations of pressure transmitted through a gas – talking.
‘We are forming a little talking Geological Dinner Club, of which I hope you will be a member’
wrote Humphrey Davy on November 13 1807, to WH Pepys.
Among those present at that dinner, held at the Freemasons Tavern in Great Queen Street, were Authur Aikin, James Frank, Davy, Pepys and Greenough. This was a time of exceptional scientific discovery, fuelled by controversies, excitement and professional skulduggery. At this time there we just a handful of professional geologists but knowledge of geology was relatively widespread and “men of culture and wide sympathies” developed the science.
And as the young society began to flourish so the heroes emerged – amongst them Buckland, Lyell, Murchison, Sedgwick, Sabine and De La Beche. Mass communication this was not; rather a rarefied conversation between the elite for the elite in a world where science and religion were locked in combat for supremacy. Some things never change.
In 1815, 8 years after the foundation of the society, Tambora volcano erupted (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Tambora). Today, very few outside the profession have ever heard of Tambora, although a few more may have marvelled at the paintings of Turner depicting sunsets that capture the atmospheric effects of the VEI 7 eruption. But who has not heard of Krakatoa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krakatoa) - famously East of Java according to the Disney Corporation – that erupted in 1883? What happened in the intervening 68 years since Tambora, an eruption many times more powerful?
Communication – not through the spoken word in close proximity but the development of a new and revolutionary technology – the Telegraph. It is wrong to imply that the internet was the first to network the planet globally. It was the cable network that linked Jakarta with Paris and London, that allowed the news of a volcanic eruption far far away to make the front pages of the morning editions across Europe.
And since that time we have not even stopped to pause. The Wireless, television – for the last 80 years these technologies have been the dominant mass communication tools. But today they themselves are being challenged by new and disruptive technologies. The internet yes, but only as a vehicle for social networking sites. Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, words not invented 10 years ago now rule the communications roost. And the society must move, as it is doing, to embrace these forms of communication, and stay relevant in the 21st century. In my own small way I have made a contribution – the first to embed a video in the Geological Society’s blog, in this case a summit eruption on Stromboli http://blog.geolsoc.org.uk/2011/09/28/filming-on-location-etna-stromboli-and-smelly-tshirts/
How would our founding fathers have reacted? Would “men of culture and wide sympathies” have embraced Web 2.0 or recoiled in horror? We will never know. But imagine if Darwin had taken an iPhone on the Beagle. Or Hutton had reported his observations on Siccar point live to the Society on Skype. Technology offers our science unparalleled ways to communicate to audiences across the world in ways unimaginable to our Founding Fathers. And so it is that future communications technologies will be delivered in ways unimaginable to us now.
In his address after being appointed Woodwarian chair of geology at Cambridge, Sedgwick claimed he would leave “no stone unturned” in his pursuit of his science. I suggest we, as a learned Society, leave no technology unturned in our pursuit to communicate the science we love to the widest of all possible audiences.
Adapted from my after dinner speech at the Geological Society’s Founders Day dinner, held on 10 November, and first published on http://blog.geolsoc.org.uk/2011/12/05/communicating-geology-in-the-digital-age/ on 5 December 2011
In these modern times of tweeting and social networking, the news agenda has changed – stories are almost ‘old news’ now by the time they appear in print, unless you offer an exclusive or a different angle/opinion piece to news that has gone out to the masses.
It’s said that news doesn’t break anymore, it ‘tweets’ and I certainly look to Twitter for an immediate source of news. The social network works almost like Chinese Whispers – we hear something, we retweet. We’ve seen its power in spreading urgent news about situations such as the horrific incidents in Norway by Breivik, the summer riots and the ongoing crisis in Libya, as well as for doing good for fundraising and supporting good causes. We’ve also witnessed how false rumours can spread like wildfire, such as fake celebrity death reports and scandal which people have come out to defend.
PRs are increasingly embracing Twitter as the first point of contact to a journalist for their news story angles. The media like a short, to the point pitch – what better way to do this than 140 characters?! It cuts out the waffle – something a lot of PRs are guilty of. When you contact a journalist, you need your pitch honed and know what they want as a journalist. All journos fear the ‘Have you got my press release?’ ring-around that PRs are ‘trained’ to do from an agency background. It still fills me with horror – any good PR knows that this is rule no 1 of what NOT to do!
Some may say that a tweet is lazy, but it’s knowing what to do next that matters. Yes, anyone can tweet but what do you do next when the journalist is interested in covering your story? That’s where your experience in the industry and professionalism plays a big part.
Journalists are looking for news on Twitter and social media as this is where breaking news is. A 1 1/2 page press release is becoming redundant as the way to contact media when you have a story – sure, have it there as background information if a journalist is interested in following up as your overall ‘package’, or for your own corporate uses on your website or for other promotion, but nothing beats initial contact more than a tweet, a short email pitch or even, gasp, a phone call! How prehistoric!
- Damian Pickard
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