Engaging with the Media

Making a sharp turn to the right, the plane dipped its wing and I caught my first glimpse of the River Vltava. I felt a wall of sound overwhelming me: Smetana’s Ma Vlast thundering inside my head and suddenly I was aware that after decades of introducing his music to my radio and concert audiences I now understood in my heart the might and power of the river rushing towards the city of Prague and what had inspired this great Symphonic Poem, Smetana’s immense need to engage listeners to his music with what he felt about his homeland.

Brevnov Monastery, Prague, Czech Republic

‘Engaging with the media’ was the topic for a panel I was to chair at the HERA Conference in Prague in September 2016, a delighted interloper in an impressive coming together of academics and researchers from across Europe. What I really wanted to try and unpick was an understanding of this sense of engagement, particularly in an age when everyone has all the statistics of website traffic, twitter followers and so on at their fingertips.   Necessary data, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that this has much to do with engagement.  After all, twenty thousand hits on your page rarely means twenty thousand people.  Today it is possible to put so much of our work “out there’, depositing it in an indefinable space and expecting, hoping that people will come and get it, but this is not true engagement where both or all sides feel listened to and understood.  Perhaps we all need to test the temperature of the water without using a thermometer in some way.

I’m a big fan of the work of Rita Charon, Professor of Medicine and Founder and Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at. Columbia University. She talks about the area between the person doing the writing, and the events which propel them, and I wonder whether this area, this gap, might be considered a place of thriving intersection and engagement between media and academics. The gesture of research, so abundant and fruitful at the Prague conference might be said to be a plea for affirmation, putting into action a creative knowledge that is inspiring and useful.  The opening film of the conference portrayed so movingly the world in which we all live. It seemed to remind us of the enormous possibilities for discussion and lessons to be learned about a real thirst and respect mutual exchanges between academics and the media.

During my panel discussion with Professor Ib Bondebjerg of Copenhagen University, Professor Golo Föllmer from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg , Dr Santanu Das  of Kings College London

Santanu Das, King's College London - http://heranet.info/cegc/index



Ib Bondebjerg, University of Copenhagen - http://heranet.info/mecetes/index

we had the opportunity of talking about their respective worlds of film, radio, history and music, all very ‘media friendly’ research areas with fascinating projects for HERA. It was important for us though to talk about what might be barriers for engagement: the wariness that the media might dilute research or misunderstand it is a very real one.  But we stressed the importance of disseminating research not just by putting it on websites, but by cultivating a real knowledge of and engagement with areas of the media who have genuine and respectful interest in academic research.

Santanu later presented a concert as part of the ‘Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict’ project which moved and engaged in ways only music and poetry can. I’d already fallen head over heels in love with the Radio Garden project from Golo and the team [See Caroline Mitchell’s blog ] http://heranet.info/blog/radiogarden-radio-research-going-viral


and it’s good to see that thriving out there in the world as it deserves to. As ever in these situations, the informal conversations are as memorable and meaningful as the formal presentations. All credit to Dr Ben Wubs (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and the whole team from The Enterprise of Culture: International Structures and Connections in the Fashion Industry since 1945  for spending time explaining to me how their project had unfolded and developed  and the impact of  their topic  on historical, environmental, artistic and political areas.

When people speak with enthusiasm and a light in their eyes it is captivating.   I came away not only with enormous respect for the hugely differing research projects which had been undertaken but a firmer believe than ever in the partnership between countries and cultures for furthering growth and understanding.


Fiona Talkington is a radio presenter on BBC Radio 3, festival curator and writer.