Some tips for live coverage at a science conference from someone who used to cover live concerts.

I covered live music events for a handful of years and it was a great experience. Science conferences and live concerts share somewhat similar principles in terms of the culture of coverage. The only difference is if you broke any of these rules at a concert, you were normally blacklisted from coverage forever. It's not like that (yet) with science communication -- and doesn't have to be! Here's some tips I've learned and converted for science conference live coverage.

Don't take pictures of the slides. That's shady. Are you a shady jerk? No? Then don't take pictures of slides. Musical equivalent: speaking off the cuff with an artist without declaring your intentions. Having them read a blog post about something taken the wrong way or out of context is a good way to never work with that person again.

When requested to, don't live-cover (tweet, blog, etc). If a presenter says, "please don't live tweet," don't. It's sheer respect. Musical equivalent: the same.

In general, take notes and synthesize a better post after a presentation/symposium is over. Don't misrepresent information or facts due to your live coverage commitment. Bad reporting about new science isn't helpful for the reporter or research. In fact, if you have to back track on something you said, your trust goes out the window. Musical equivalent: waiting to post high quality DSLR pictures as opposed to immediately posting camera phone pictures. You never want to be camera phone picture guy in the photo pit. And generally, if you had camera photo coverage then you probably wouldn't be invited back to cover events for said artist.

Poster presentation coverage is the equivalent of being backstage at a concert -- cover with extreme caution. Some posters haven't been published or are preliminary data. If you are going to write up a public post or live cover a presentation, disclose your intentions immediately. Don't lurk around reading then drop the nonchalant oh, by the way, I'm going to put this on my blog... Don't be a shady jerk. Musical equivalent: Backstage at a concert. Generally for less scandalous things than you'd think (poor eating habits, drinking non-sponsorship things, "off" or out of context comments, etc).

If you are covering a bunch of people and have a bit of face-time with each, try getting "quick access" links from them. Not email, but lab site, blog, Twitter, G+, YouTube channel, etc. As any researcher knows: you are your #1 promoter. Having a link mentioned in any place generates traffic -- and hopefully leads to interest. If you are so inclined to help promote research you find interesting or exciting, do so! Musical equivalent: the same. It's funny how many people still have the notion that making "good music" will automatically generate hype and promotion. That's absolutely false. If you want to promote your science or music, you have to be the one shouting the loudest about it. It won't just "happen". As a science reporter/communicator, be aware that people do generally want attention to their lab or work. If you are so kind enough to remind them, great! But also remember that it's not your job to tell people what to do or how to promote themselves. Sadly, this isn't something scientists learn through graduate school...

Even tiny mentions go a very long way. Interesting abstract but hard-to-understand poster walkthrough? Note the positives and add a quick link. Musical equivalent: including a mention of the opener of a live concert review. (Reporting on smaller groups usually results in a greater "long tail" [probably should save "long tail" and "short tail" talk for a different post])

I generally stay away from negatives. Negative comments in science aren't mutually exclusive with "bad".  There is a fine line between a critique/being critical and bashing. A good critique offers potential alternatives that may have been overlooked. Bashing usually is sans-alternatives. A good critique is meant to strengthen the design and outcome of the study. Bashing is a "take-down". Musical equivalent: bad reviews. I used to write bad reviews -- some with heavy critiques, some without. And in the long run, I didn't like that aspect of my writing. I wasn't interested in "hype" or "flash" posts. It was disrespectful, in my opinion. People (a lot of people) put a lot of hard work into something I just crapped all over. Science isn't different. A critique is helpful in most cases, but a complete take down of a project is something that is disrespectful -- and sometimes detrimental. Point out potential flaws, but mind your logical fallacies (particularly ad hominem or slippery slope) as crossing into bashing may also set ablaze a bridge as well. Be critical -- as a scientist should be -- but don't be an asshole -- as a person shouldn't be.

Lastly, you are attending. Attend for yourself, first and foremost! It's okay to play the you had to be there card because... well, sometimes you really just had to be there -- for speakers, or for poster walkthroughs, or for workshops, or for whatever it may be. The weight of the world shouldn't be felt through your thumbs and/or fingers. Musical equivalent: same. I went to shows because they were awesome. I never went into a show thinking I can't wait to blog about this show. Be immersed in the awesome around you.

2 thoughts on “Some tips for live coverage at a science conference from someone who used to cover live concerts.”

  1. katiesci says:

    Have you ever had the requirement to only take pictures during the first x number of songs? I thought of that for the "don't take pictures of slides" one.

    Fun post!

    1. Nick Wan says:

      Haha, I have! Usually, the first 3 songs you can take pictures. Which is actually a decent rule for taking pics at a conference. If you're going to take a pic with a slide in the frame, do it during the first three slides. That's usually 1. the title, 2. the background lit and 3. the hypo slide.

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