Okay, so I might be exaggerating slightly in my title, but this year’s Day of Archaeology was spent promoting the Festival of Archaeology and, when promoting archaeology to the media, you need to know how to get their attention. It is that balance between the exaggerated and the factual that makes promoting the work of archaeologists so difficult – and that allows a handful of enquiries to fill an entire day. As Communications Officer for the Council for British Archaeology – a representative of and promotional body for archaeology – the challenge is somewhat greater as we are one-stage removed from the finds and research itself.
Getting that initial interest from the media isn’t easy. Ideally, you need a superlative to grab attention and get a press release read by a journalist or editor in the first place. It has to be the best, greatest, first of its kind, last of its kind, imperilled, or destroyed to be considered newsworthy, or compete with the other hundreds of releases and emails a journalist receives, and this is not how most archaeologists tick. So I am very fortunate that an annual Festival, which is an accumulation of hundreds of local events, has managed to get their interest – and massively grateful to the journalists involved, thank you! This piece is as much about the difficulties of their jobs as it is about mine. I appreciate how difficult that editor and those readers are to impress.
I have regularly been put on the spot with the question from journalists “So what incredible finds have been unearthed during the Festival?” We have been fortunate to have organisations such as Durham University taking part, who chose to reveal a previously discovered and investigated find for the first time during the Festival (shameless plug here ). Normally it isn’t that easy.
It takes time to investigate any finds or prove any theories we may come up with. Sadly, that doesn’t quite fit with the requirements of modern media – if you dug up the most groundbreaking find in the world 3 years ago, and are only just ready to publish your findings, that gnawing voice in the back of a journalist’s mind is questioning if that is breaking news or old news. As such, I’ve developed a fondness for the less scrupulous archaeologists who will boldly declare that what they pulled out of the ground 5 seconds ago will change our entire understanding of the prehistoric world. I love to read their stories in the local – and every so often national – press, admire their spirit, and laugh at the minimal amount of research that went in to the article.
However, this is the challenge I have faced during the Day of Archaeology. Getting journalists and other influencers interested in our work, whilst ensuring that the final published story is somehow balanced, despite the temptation on all sides to dazzle the readers with something exaggerated. It is easy to be mis-quoted, something I fear more than anything, not being a practicing archaeologist myself. Generating publicity is comparatively easy, conveying good archaeology through the media is hard.
So for me 28th July was spent answering calls from journalists who were suitably intrigued by the concept of a two week Festival of everything archaeological. I’ve nurtured the better ideas, passed images to those who just wanted to copy and paste our press release, and sadly dashed the hopes of some of the more optimistic writers who wanted to publish their “greatest single development in the history of the world” piece. I’ve sourced quotes from those in the know for those stories that fit with the reality of a good archaeological approach. All being well, you won’t even know I’ve done it. You’ll read a story about the Festival of Archaeology in the next few days that will have a catchy title but will be well informed and balanced, with a tasty quote from someone relevant, that makes people want to get out there and get involved with their heritage.