Friday, 24 February 2012

On air...again

Posted by Jean Adams

Yesterday I got up at 0530 to speak to someone from Radio 5 Live for their breakfast programme. Then I made and ate my porridge and drove to the airport for the early flight to Bristol. I am so not a morning person. But my morning, day, week, month, year was totally made by hearing my research mentioned on the Today programme during the 0630 headlines. I nearly crashed the car.

About 18 months ago, I was asked for ideas for final year projects for Food & Human Nutrition students. I don’t remember now why I thought it would be interesting to look at price promotions on alcohol. But I did. I was given two students to do the project. Between them, they surveyed all the shops selling alcohol within 1500m of Newcastle’s Student Union, noting down all price promotions they saw on their rounds. The students split up the data and wrote up their dissertations.

When I put the all the data back together, it became clear that of more than 2000 promotions found, less than 2% led to alcohol being sold at less than cost price – the new minimum price that will be introduced in England in April. The implication is obvious – banning below cost sales of alcohol wont effect the cost of alcohol in the shops. The research was accepted for publication in Alcohol & Alcoholism.

I told the press office about the research because it felt policy relevant to me. I’m not sure they were desperately interested, but they agreed to press release it.

I ended up doing TV interviews for BBC Breakfast, Tyne Tees and Sky Tyne & Wear. As well as Radio 5, I did Sky Radio too. The research was mentioned without interviews on Radio 3 and 4 morning news. But by far the most adrenalin-surging was a live telephone interview with Winifred Robinson on Radio 4’s You & Yours.

It feels so unfair that the media loved my quickly done, undergraduate students projects paper, and dismissed my really important, publically funded evaluation of new regulations on TV food advertising that took years to produce.

Well...I am in Bristol for the third instalment (and final exam) of a Science Writing course. So I think this all has something to do with ‘news values’. Our work on alcohol promotions plays to the “continuity” and “consonance” news values – it builds on David Cameron’s statement last week that he was going to tackle the “scandal” of binge drinking, but it also allows well rehearsed arguments about minimum unit pricing to be dredged up again. All in all, it’s a nice little piece that journalists can easily relate to other ongoing public debates. Can you tell I’ve been revising?

So now I can diagnose the problem. But I still don’t know how to treat it and get the media to take note of stuff they just don’t want to.

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