Media training course now available to entire Berkeley community online

two people doing a media interview

Professor Jennifer Doudna speaks with CBS News reporter Dan Rather about her co-invention of CRISPR gene editing. (UC Berkeley photo by Roxanne Makasdjian)

One of the toughest courses to get into at UC Berkeley isn’t in the academic guide and isn’t restricted to students.

It’s the media training course developed by the campus’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs that is now online for the first time. “Media Training for Academics Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spotlight,” previously offered by invitation only, is a 6-hour course on how to work effectively with print, online and broadcast news outlets.

The free, self-paced course is crafted around a series of videos and ranges from the basics — like how to prepare for media interviews — to how to write engaging op-ed pieces for local or national news outlets.

It’s open to all Berkeley faculty, staff and students, but Roxanne Makasdjian, Berkeley’s director of broadcast communications, and Diana Harvey, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, say the course is particularly useful for faculty and for postdoctoral and graduate students.

Robert Sanders

Robert Sanders of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs shares tips for communicating on camera in the new bCourse, Media Training for Academics. (UC Berkeley photo by Stephen McNally)

“There is so much research that sits in journals and never gets communicated to the public,” Makasdjian says. “Our mission in public affairs is to do that. We want to translate for the world all of the fantastic contributions of this campus, in terms the public can understand and, hopefully, act on — with their tax-paying dollars, with their votes and in their own professional and personal lives.”

The online course came into being as part of a collaboration between Communications and Public Affairs and Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center based on an in-person course developed by Communications and Public Affairs. The online course also includes input from Berkeley’s Digital Learning Services (DLS).

It was an immediate hit with invitees.

“I had a really great experience,” Berkeley earthquake researcher Quigkai Kong says of taking the in-person course. “I was trained as a researcher, so there wasn’t a lot of experience talking with the media. The training really prepared me for how to talk and how to get my key messages to the media. I was always afraid of talking to the media, but this taught me how to get the key messages from the research out to the public.”

Roxanne Makasdjian

UC Berkeley Broadcast Communications Manager Roxanne Makasdjian shares ideas on getting ready for an on-camera interview in the bCourse, Media Training for Academics. (UC Berkeley photo by Stephen McNally)

Matt Sadowski, who is the Cal Band’s director, offered similar plaudits after taking the in-person course.

“I had never done anything like this before, and I found it to be very helpful,” Sadowski says. “It was structured, but flexible, which I appreciated. I had a great time, and I feel more confident in how to sell the message.”

Makasdjian says the plan is to continue to offer the one-day course while having its essence available in the bCourse online.

The course is divided into four modules, each offering several short videos, readings and exercises. All are optional, and advancing sequentially through the modules is not required. Key topics include what makes news; how to identify and develop messages for the media and deliver them; what to do when a reporter calls; preparing for an on-camera interview; writing and pitching an op-ed, blog or social media post and how to set up professional-style video interviews.

Lois Kazakoff

San Francisco Chronicle Opinion Page Editor Lois Kazakoff encourages Berkeley scientists to contribute op-ed pieces. (UC Berkeley photo by Stephen McNally)

Included in the course is a video with San Francisco Chronicle Opinion Page Editor Lois Kazakoff. She all but begs academics, particularly scientists, to reach out to the wider world via op-ed pieces.

“We’re desperate for you. Our democracy depends on you writing for us. We need your voice in the public conversation,” Kazakoff says. “There’s nothing more democratic than science. There’s no bigger payoff for our communities than the advances of science. We need scientists to learn to speak in the language of the people that they can understand so that they can embrace what they’re doing, what’s going on. We need people who actually know what they’re talking about so that when we’re making public policies they reflect the cleanest, the best, the most advanced science that we have.”

With no restrictions on how many individuals at Berkeley can access it at a time, the course — or just a module at a time — is available any day and at any time.

two people talk in front of a tv camera

Cristina Robins, left, a senior museum scientist at UC Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology, speaks with KPIX-TV reporter Mary Lee in 2018. Ideas for what news professionals are looking for in a story are at the core of the course. (UC Berkeley photo by Will Kane)

“This course is in high demand, and we simply don’t have the bandwidth to deliver it in person to everyone who is interested in it,” Harvey says. “We have developed an engaging and accessible alternative for faculty to take the course at their convenience.”

The demand is high enough that Harvey and Makasdjian are entertaining thoughts about extending the course beyond Berkeley.

Makasdjian, who has led the course with her media relations colleagues, says one bit of insight she has gained is that many academics don’t have a firm grasp on what makes a news story. The new online course tackles that head-on.

“It’s important for academics to learn how to identify and articulate why the public should care about their work,” Makasdjian says.

Makasdjian’s colleague, Stephen McNally, is a multimedia producer who shot and edited the videos used in the online course. He’s hopeful that having this course available to those at Berkeley who can be influencers will help bridge a gap that sometimes exists between the public and the media.

“There is important scientific information that needs to get out there, but we’re at a point where people don’t always trust science,” McNally says. “By having the people who do the work tell their story, maybe we can rebuild some of that trust.”

The course can be completed in about three hours, although doing the final exercise — writing an op-ed piece — will extend that time.