VC Voice: my experience of working with the media

Vice-Chancellor Professor Malcolm Press 2

I can’t think of many other cities where the two universities get on so well and the Two VCs interview with the Guardian last week is a good example of this.   There wasn’t much that Nancy Rothwell and I disagreed on.  I even like Sweden as a place to visit, having done much of my research in the Scandinavian Arctic, although I draw the line when it comes to fast cars – have a look at the article if you want to find out more:

2VCs: How worried should universities be about the general election?

The Two VCs format is part of a series where two Vice-Chancellors get together to discuss issues in and around higher education. Timing is everything, so the journalist Anna Fazackerley wanted to discover what universities and our students are thinking in the run up to the General Election on the 8th of June.

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve always been a little nervous of talking to the press but this experience with the Guardian and, indeed, with other media outlets including the BBC since I joined Manchester Metropolitan have been remarkably positive.  Of course, they are looking for a good story and something that’s newsworthy, but the journalists were genuinely interested in uncovering truth and understanding why things happen in the way that they do.  In that respect, they’re not so very different from researchers, both are interested in mechanisms.

But I’ve also learnt much more about the importance of having a good press office and ours definitely falls into that category.  They not only need to know what’s going on, but also to be fleet of foot in responding to fast moving situations.

There’s nothing I like more than when I go outside of our University and someone tells me a great story about one of our colleagues.  I got this recently when I was with the Editor of the Manchester Evening News who praised the way in which our press office colleagues engage with his team.  This means that we regularly get the opportunity to present our side of the story.

My advice to colleagues would be to be open and straightforward with the press.  Making things clear, simple and engaging is important.  Never use 50 words when 10 will do.  And make it interesting, there’s nothing worse than dull news.  Preparation is key and make sure that you have a few interesting facts at hand.  There’s no shortage of expertise at Manchester Metropolitan to help you.

I always set myself the challenge of learning something new when I do an interview, and the chat with Anna, the Guardian journalist, was no exception. Did you know that 69% of Premier League footballers come from outside of the UK?  And if you want to know why this is relevant, again you’ll need to read the interview.

I’ve had some positive feedback about the article although most of the messages have been to ask about the caricature – but take a look and draw your own conclusion.  The interview was published at the same time as the Conservative Party manifesto, although it took place a good week in advance.  Now that we have all the party manifestos we have a much clearer idea of what we need to be thinking about – research funding, student support and the proposed Institutes of Technology stand out for now – and we can return to discuss those challenges in the future.

If I could give you any advice arising out of my experience this week it is this: get out there and share your stories. You should be very proud of what you do at this University, and you have an excellent press office to help you.