Observing > News Release Opportunities

Highlight Your Science in an NRAO News Release

by Davis Murphy last modified Jan 30, 2014

NRAO telescope users: If you discover something newsworthy using one of our telescopes, our Education and Public Outreach (EPO) office would welcome the opportunity to work with you to bring public recognition to your result.

Our writers and visualizers are skilled and experienced at interpreting science for the public. They’ll work with you directly to craft a story that will express the essence of your result in an accurate and approachable way. We have extensive distribution networks and an established reputation among science journalists as a dependable source of newsworthy stories.

Our Public Information Officers are your points-of-contact:

For VLA & VLBA: Dave Finley, Socorro – dfinley@nrao.edu | +1-575-835-7302
For ALMA & GBT: Charles Blue, Charlottesville – cblue@nrao.edu | +1-434-296-0314

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can any science result become a news release? What makes a result ‘newsworthy’?

A: Fundamentally, news is something new (generally not a confirmation of a previous result), and interesting to the non-specialist. Factors that can help make a result new and interesting include (but are not limited to):

  • It overturns a previous belief or fills in a major gap in understanding
  • The studied phenomenon has some superlative attribute (biggest, brightest, closest, farthest, most massive, most destructive, etc.)
  • The result includes—or is—an arresting/evocative image (which can be appealing as an image release even if it’s not scientifically all that significant)

NRAO policy is to issue news releases only for results that have been accepted for publication in a refereed journal or announced at a major meeting (typically AAS or AAAS). Image releases (a.k.a. “Pretty Pictures”) don’t need to be peer-reviewed.

Q: What about a major milestone, or the beginning of a major development or observing project, that isn’t necessarily an important science result?

While most of our news releases are about science findings, we also produce and distribute news tip-sheets, announcements, and social media postings that can highlight other aspects of the work of the observatory and its users. Again, our public information officers are your points-of-contact.

Q: My institution really wants to get credit for my discovery: Shouldn’t I just work with our own press office?

A: We specialize in collaborating with the publicity apparatus of our users’ host institutions. We’re pleased to work with them on co-releases, and we freely share our resources. We often find that they benefit from our experience in crafting astronomy stories, and, of course, we benefit from the increased attention to the story that their participation makes possible.

Q: What if my investigation involved multiple telescopes, perhaps non-NRAO radio telescopes or telescopes in other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum?

A: We routinely work with our colleagues in the press offices of other observatories, sometimes on joint press releases, and sometimes on the coordinated release of complementary stories.

Q: What are the components of a news release?

A: At a minimum, several hundred words of carefully written text. Visuals are important too, and can include illustrations, info-graphics, animations, photographs, and short videos. The more time we have (before a result is published) to work on the package, the richer it can be. For really big results we are often able to broker a press conference or other direct interaction with journalists and/or the public.

Q: How can I be sure the release will accurately reflect my science?

Our writers and artists will work directly and iteratively with the result’s PI to make sure the final package is both interesting and accurate.

Q: Are there any costs associated with working with the NRAO EPO office?

A: None. Informing the public about advances in understanding of the universe enabled by their taxes, our telescopes, and our users is a part of NRAO’s mission.

Q: Where will my story be seen?

A: Nearly all NRAO news release receive some degree of attention in the national and international media. Certain high-profile stories can appear in major news outlets, including print, broadcast, and web-based publications.

We distribute releases directly to hundreds of science and general-topic journalists. NRAO also distributes results via the major scientific news wires, which give a certain “evergreen” quality your results. Our team is also highly adept in using social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to get the broadest possible coverage for science stories.

We also post our stories on NRAO’s public and science websites as well as AUI’s website. Since NRAO is a facility of the National Science Foundation, our releases often appear on the NSF’s News from the Field and Science 360 news service. NRAO releases are also distributed via a large network of self-updating astronomy display screens in museums, planetariums, libraries, and nature centers.

Q: When should I contact the NRAO Public Information Officers?

A: As soon as possible after you have decided to publish or present your result. Telling us about your result does not break any journal embargo rules; indeed, we routinely work with those embargo rules. Graphics and animations can take considerable time to prepare, so the more time you give us, the better. We can work initially from your draft paper to prepare the basics of the press release and the graphics. We will work with you to ensure that the release is scientifically accurate. For some journals, the time between acceptance and publication is so short it limits the scope of our work. In such cases, we often can repurpose existing graphics to accompany text or slightly modify an image from your paper.