Attending the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium for the past two years as a member of press is always a very pleasing and rewarding experience. As some of you may know, I'm a semi-professional blogger and very active on Twitter and Facebook.
One thing that I learned from my press activities is that the stereotype of journalists is not necessarily true. There are many talented people, who report accurately, and are often critical about conference presentations. Journalists have an important duty to ensure their messages are correct. I also think that MD Anderson's communication office does a very good job coordinating press activities.
For successful message delivery, coordination is important to make sure the conference presenter and journalist communicate well. Not all journalists have a scientific or medical background, so it's important that conference presentations are accurate, but simple enough for a layperson to understand.
At press conferences, not surprisingly, some academic physicians want to provide many details because they believe that more information makes for an accurate report. But, this is not always true. The accuracy of the content does not always come from the amount of information. If the media does not understand, then the content is pretty much misunderstood. I have seen this many times at press conferences.
Additionally, I find some presenters who don't communicate content well, or are trying to oversell the content. In particular, when primary endpoints of clinical studies are not met and the subset analysis of randomized studies is emphasized, the media can easily tell that the information is an oversell. My advice is to provide relevant data and be passionate about your work, but do not oversell it.
So, what I'm saying from the media perspective is that it's important to be natural, honest and humble as a conference presenter, but assertive when communicating with the press. Gabriel Hortobagyi, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, does this well. Of course, he is my boss (disclosure of conflict), but even if you subtract that, he still does very well. It's something that we could all learn from.