UPEI blogger provides media a helping hand

Reporters need to come up with at least two new story ideas each day and a UPEI blog was created to help them, says the man who writes it.

Dave Atkinson created the blog as a public relations tool to give exposure to the scientific community of UPEI. Atkinson, a former CBC reporter, said he knows the pressure reporters face in coming up with new ideas.  He made the comment at a news conference Nov. 10 at UPEI.

He decided to link the university’s need for exposure and the media’s need for stories.

The blog provides reporters with information on the school’s science work and puts it in away they can understand.

To get the full story, Atkinson interviews those who do the research. Researchers often use scientic terms during the interview and it is his job to find out what it really means, he said.

“The best way to unravel jargon is to let them do it themselves. Everyone is human at their core, no matter how convoluted they seem.”

The best way to get them to give you the story is to put them at ease, he said.

“People will give you a great story if you give them the chance.”

His job is to take the research information provided to him by the science staff and translate the jargon to make an interesting story, he said.

“I make the researchers interesting characters in a story that people can understand and I then provide the information to journalists.”

He used the spread of chytrid fungus in Island ponds as an example. The fungus has been linked to the extinction of many species of frogs around the world. Researchers from UPEI tested ponds across the province to see how many frogs had the fungus.

“Sometimes the university will not give a press release and only post it on the blog. But there have been some stories that are so big that it wouldn’t be fair not to give it to everyone. The research that was done about the effects of the chytrid fungus on Island frogs is a good example of that,” he said.

Atkinson also provided some advice about with those in public relations.

“You also have to be careful when dealing with them because they could be a former journalist. A lot of journalists have gone into public relations and they know how to spin the story.”

Maria Forzan also spoke at the news conference. She talked about her research regarding the chytrid fungus and a parasite which has been killing songbirds on the Island.

Her research team monitors the life spans of different species of wildlife, Forzan said

“We do general surveillance to monitor wildlife mortality which we believe to be abnormal.”

Forzan has discovered song birds may catch the parasite from the food people feed them and the chytrid fungus may be triggered by warm temperatures.UPEI Research Communications Officer, Dave Atkinson. Conway photo

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