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“Turning Sex Research into News: Sexual Science for the Public’s Interest”

The Kinsey Institute and IU School of Journalism

Funding provided by The Ford Foundation and Indiana University


Workshop Agenda


Translating sex research into news presents unique challenges. Bombarded with sexual messages, the public seeks accurate information and research findings from trusted sources, yet political and funding issues and the complexity and limitations of their research creates reticence and caution among sex researchers. Journalists are constrained by editorial and public standards in presenting sensitive subject matter, as well as translating research findings and dealing with wary sources. Though the perspectives and needs differ, the responsibility lies with the news makers, the researchers, to present their findings to a public eager for accurate information, and to the news reporters, who must understand the potential consequences and limitations of their sources, while reporting accurately and sensitively to the consumers of news.

On June 11, 2006, 8 journalists and 8 sex researchers from around the U.S. met to offer their various perspectives on these issues, and to find similarities and differences in the needs and considerations of both fields. The focus of this workshop was to work together towards the overall goal of providing research-based information “for the public’s interest.”

Workshop Agenda

This workshop brought together a group of sex researchers and journalists (16 participants in all), all experts in what they do, to share insight and perspective on the tricky tasks of translating sex research for public understanding.


Dinner and address by Dr. George Lundberg Editor, Medscape General Medicine


I. Introduction

Julia R. Heiman, Director, The Kinsey Institute

Trevor Brown, Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism

II. Presentation of Data:

Kimberly McBride, PhD. Doctoral Research Fellow
Dr. McBride presented premilinary findings and discussion points on survey of sex researchers.

Johnny V. Sparks, PhD. Candidate PreDoctoral Research Fellow
Mr. Sparks presented preliminary findings and discussion points on survey of journalists.

III. Specific Examples and Case Study Interactions and Ethics and Values of the fields

: Kelly McBride, The Poynter Institute, St. Petersburg, FL

IV. Comments & Questions: Open Discussion from guests and participants

V. Tools Guidelines, & Standards

VI. Summary: Output, Next Steps, Value Added

Proceedings and recommendations will be distributed through the KI website and through appropriate publications geared towards researchers and the journalists who cover sex research.

Tips for journalists and sex researchers

Tips for journalists:

  • understand statistics, report on valid stats, and use them responsibly. This might involve taking a statistic course or training
  • beware of the ‘balance’ practice when validity of two sides is not equal
  • review the rules of engagement with interviewee (background, off the record, on record, etc)
  • fact check and, if possible, quote check.
  • be upfront about direction and scope of story
  • explain complexities
  • respect the source’s time
  • understand the constraints on the researcher
  • beware that you are not pathologizing, criminalizing, or treating sexual issues as disease, unnecessarily
  • do not use humor to trivialize research
  • know the sex research journals and how to access articles
  • be aware of your own boundaries and biases in reporting on sexual behavior and sexual issues.

Tips for researchers:

  • get training on working with media
  • know the perspective of the journalist, the outlet, and his or her audience
  • know the institution behind the reporter
  • assess reporter’s knowledge
  • ask questions about the story
  • be prepared for the interview – schedule a time.
  • understand that the writer’s outlet “owns” the story. It’s your research, but once they write about it, it’s their story.
  • put research in context for the reader
  • review the rules of engagement with reporter (background, off the record, on record, etc)
  • speak only when you have expertise
  • think about headlines ??
  • suggest other sources
  • recognize the needs of a lay audience and the goals of the reporter
  • assess reporter’s knowledge
  • be explicit about your concerns
  • know what the news will not be about
  • have realistic expectations
  • give good contact information for follow-up and fact checking.
  • recognize red flags
    • uninformed
    • loaded questions
    • inability to re-iterate
    • unformed or vague questions
  • explicitly state what your study is about
  • request corrections
    • talk to ombudsmen
    • letter to editors
    • op-ed pieces
Both groups agreed on the need to develop trust and professional contacts. This can be enhanced by defining the terms for both reporters and researchers from the start of an interview or inquiry, clarifying ownership of the material, language, expectations and the limitations of each party towards the other’s goals. Each group should recognize that a researcher’s focus on scientific process has less value to the journalist than communicating content.

As one participant noted, “Keep in mind that you might need each other again.”

Photos from the workshop

Poynter Institute report on workshop

Kinsey Institute newsletter article

Updated October 11, 2006

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