Mammoths in the Media

A quick round-up of the last two-and-a-bit weeks of Mammoth Media Madness, where on more than one occasion I found myself thinking ‘What would Peeta Mellark do…?’

It all started with Woolly Mammoth: the Autopsy…

(NB. in the UK, you can watch this on 4oD here)

The Daily Mail, the Independent and the Guardian all thought you should watch Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy on Channel 4, Sunday 23rd November 2014

The Daily Mail, the Independent and the Guardian all thought you should watch Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy on Channel 4, Sunday 23rd November 2014

Which led to an early morning trip to Media City in Salford, to talk mammoth blood on the BBC Breakfast sofa (and they squeezed a cheeky Radio 5 Live segment in on the way up the stairs too!). There was a whole plate of pastries for breakfast but neither I, nor the teachers who were divided about the controversial issue of whether kids should give their teachers christmas presents, wanted to eat them.

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On the BBC Breakfast Sofa, wearing my apple-scratting, cider-making clothes (all I had with me that weekend…)

On the BBC Breakfast sofa, wearing my apple-scratting, cider-making clothes (all I had with me that weekend…)

And then I wrote about the ethics of mammoth cloning for The Guardian’s Comment is Free [more here], which prompted a lot of other journalistic pieces, with comments from me.  Too many to link to.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 13.05.09

This was followed by an invite to go on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live. I said ‘Yes, please!’ [listen here]

No one wants to eat the Saturday Live pastries… From left to right: John Carder Bush, Rebecca Root, Carrie Grant, and me.

No one wants to eat the Saturday Live pastries either… From left to right: John Carder Bush, Rebecca Root, Carrie Grant, and me.

Then Russell Howard’s Good News got in touch. I was terrified, but thought what the heck. They uncovered my #RealorAuel secret, and it all got a bit cheeky, but it was great fun. Russell Howard is a very generous comedian, who let me take the mickey out of him as much as the other way round. [available here in the UK until 01:30, Thurs 11th Dec. Rest of the world, this link should work for you]

Russell Howard and I discuss the finer points of etiquette when sharing a bedroom with one's clone...

Russell Howard and I discuss the finer points of etiquette when sharing a bedroom with one’s clone…

Plus they give you flowers!

Flowers, crisps, chocolates and pizza to order in the Russell Howard's Good News dressing room!

Flowers, crisps, chocolates and pizza to order in the Russell Howard’s Good News dressing room!

And then I got flown to New York for an interview on CBS This Morning to promote the Smithsonian Channel version of #mammothautopsy How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth.

I got picked up in a limousine…

One of four limo trips through NYC. Must say BBC Breakfast didn't stretch (*groan*) to this ;-)

One of four limo trips through NYC. Must say BBC Breakfast didn’t stretch (*groan*) to this 😉

And the CBS This Morning green room had a pretty fancy breakfast spread… But what is it with breakfast TV and pastries? Who on earth wants to go live on national TV with pastry crumbs down their front or stuck to their lipgloss?

CBS This Morning puts on a good breakfast spread. Nobody wants to eat the pastries, again.

CBS This Morning puts on a good breakfast spread. Nobody wants to eat the pastries, again.

American production values made me look very [lip]glossy. I’m glad I wore my fave cider-making cardy again to make sure a bit of the real me made it on-air. Plus, breakfast is a cosy cardigan kind of time.

You can watch the CBS This Morning interview here: http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

Thanks dear chum Anna Zecharia for getting her entire US family up early on the day after Thanksgiving to record this for posterity!

Thanks dear chum Anna Zecharia for getting her entire US family up early on the day after Thanksgiving to record this for posterity!

I also got to meet up with my Team TrowelBlazers buddy Suzie Birch in NYC after the interview, so that was a bonus!

Suzie Birch and I catching up in Central Park, NYC. Nice selfie work there, Suzie!

Suzie Birch and I catching up in Central Park, NYC. Nice selfie work there, Suzie!

And the icing on the ridiculous cake? I made it into Grazia’s Chart of Lust. One below Morrissey. Oh Yes.

Number 7 on Grazia's Chart of Lust. Surely life is downhill from here?

Number 7 on Grazia’s Chart of Lust. Surely life is downhill from here? Thanks Nicola Hembrey for the pic!

It’s been a ridiculous whirlwind of a time. Exhausting and hilarious. Hopefully informative on the science front to all who paid attention, and didn’t get totally sick of me.


Postscript: one of the things that freaked me out about all this TV was having no idea about the practicalities of what’s involved in different settings: the studio set-up, what to wear, what to bring with me etc. For example, I don’t normally wear make up except for special occasions, but I’m vain/self-conscious enough to not want to look crap on the telly, so should I arrive with my make up done? Or bring it with me?

Here’s some knowledge I’ve gleaned that may be useful to others in the same situation:

1. I had to sort myself out hair/make-up/clothes-wise on #mammothautopsy. This meant I got stuck wearing the same boiling hot outfit for a week (for continuity) as we launched into the autopsy and filming earlier than I expected. I had my hair up, fortunately, so that wasn’t flopping around everywhere. But I don’t recommend a hand wash-only cardigan as suitable mammoth autopsy attire… Or necklaces.

2. If you go to a TV studio, they will do your make up and hair for you so you really don’t have to worry. This is very important for morning tv when you don’t really want to be arsed getting up even earlier than you have to and then have an eyeliner crisis or whatever. How much make up they put on you varies, though, so I imagine having some idea of what you want to look like might help. If I’d been braver, I might have asked for a leetle less of the slap on Russell Howard. Though as it just brought me in line with Russell — yes blokes, you’ll be getting the treatment too, as Steve says below — I suppose it was  beauty-base zero, as they say in the Capitol. The CBS ladies were the best, as they sized me up and realised I wasn’t a make-up person, so kept it minimal. BBC Breakfast kept it minimal too, but I think that was mostly because we had literally 30 secs to get ready and the make-up artist was also busy eating a pastry with one hand. Still, at least someone’s eating those pastries 😉

3. Food. They will promise to feed you, but for breakfast TV & radio it will be pastries. And there won’t be any plates (I sound like my mum!). Fine for radio, but these have to be the worst food EVAH for a pre-broadcast snack as they’re so messy. I’d make sure you have breakfast first, if you aren’t too nervous.

4. Clothes. Apparently blue and green are frowned upon by RHGN (and any green-screen setting too), which was a disaster for me as that is basically my entire wardrobe (apart from Scandinavian knits..). Also crazy patterns, stripes and checks cause strobing issues. I had to dash out at lunch and buy a not-very-expensive red top from Zara. I recommend Icelandic cardigans wherever possible, except at mammoth autopsies.

5. It helps, I’ve found (also when doing live events), to wear something with a waistband that they can attach the mic battery pack easily. So skirt/trousers/dress with a belt. Otherwise you might find yourself fiddling with the waistband of your tights in fairly public settings…

I should also add that all of the producers I dealt with were super-nice, and super-kind. Thanks especially to Trudy Scanlon at BBC Breakfast and Ben Michaels at Russell Howard’s Good News for dealing patiently with all of my questions and being all-round good eggs. I even forgive you for the Mammoth Hunters excerpts, Ben — reading the books to find the juicy bits is punishment enough!

6 comments

  1. Alexis McBride · December 7, 2014

    It sounds like you’ve had a fantastically unbelievable couple of weeks! Hope you enjoyed it! (and home someday I’m lucky enough to need your tips – thanks!)

    Like

  2. Steve McGann · December 7, 2014

    Tori,

    Loved this – and congrats for surviving with dignity and cider sweater intact!

    Seriously, the experience of mass media coverage and the ‘sofa’ interview can be a strange one at the best of times. It’s something I’d like to hear discussed between experts like yourself a lot more, so that the experiences can be shared and the benefits passed on.

    I remember giving a little presentation on ‘surviving the sofa’ to my sci comm classmates at Imperial a few years ago. Mass media exposure can be a rare thing for most experts, but may creep up unexpectedly and take on its own life, as your week perfectly demonstrates. It can wrong-foot the unwary, and potentially blow an opportunity for brilliant science communication. Yet if it works well, the audience reception for the message is potentially massive. Any tips from those like yourself who’ve done it are always useful.

    Re: strobing clothing issues in the TV interview – excellent point. Stripes usually give them nightmares. I often take an emergency change of top in case they don’t like the colour of choice 1!

    Make-up! Yes, a tricky one. Fall asleep for five minutes and you can end up staring at a stranger in the make-up mirror. My other half has complained that US media make-up often makes her resemble an astronaut’s wife c.1963. Not the look she was going for 😉 Oh, and any men reading – this means you too. Everybody gets make-up – because garish studio lights make anyone without make-up look paler than an extra off the Walking Dead.

    Thought you owned Russell on the ‘gay clone’ thing! But you also made some useful points about cloning ethics too. This is a part of mass science communication that I think lots of practitioners in science don’t value, but what people like Brian Cox can be so good at. You could call it ‘stealth sci comm’. The audience can arrive at issues in science by a lot of indirect routes – including through entertainment shows. It isn’t all about serious documentaries and classrooms. While you’re having a joke on a comedy show or a chat show interview, you can slip in some important points about science, politics, ethics, etc. Being there and engaging in the public eye is half the battle – and half the fun.

    Great point you illustrate in your blog about being yourself. So important IMO. For all the artifice surrounding media, the camera or microphone is actually very kind to ordinary ‘imperfections’ : quirks of speech or non-celebrity visual appearance. Even favourite jumpers! We don’t expect our ‘real’ people – particularly our experts – to be celebrities or movie stars. That is their refreshing appeal. It communicates humanity and trust. But it’s still easy to lose ourselves in the media maelstrom, and – through nerves, insecurity, or simply the wrong clothing or make-up – lose track of the person who earned the right to sit there in the first place. So I’d advise anyone just to be sincere and real. You know your stuff already. Trust that. Let the conversation flow – don’t try to dictate it. It’s a conversation, not a presentation. And smile!

    But most of all be happy about how you look and who you are. It’s you – your work – your words they want to see and hear.

    Like

    • toriherridge · December 7, 2014

      Thanks Steve! I like stealth scicomm, and the dynamics of the live chat. It’s a lot less stressful to be yourself (once you’ve got over the desire to look expert-y). A lot of my colleagues hated the cloning focus of the doc (TBF, you get mammoth cloning fatigue if you work in this area), but I think it is a topic that people find both amazing *and* accessible from a conversation POV. People feel they can enter into a discussion of it from all kinds of perspectives, even if they don’t feel confident about the science. And that’s a real plus. One bit cut from the RH interview was when I asked him if he’d rather have a baby or clone himself. That’s a great pub convo starter!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Joanne P Ballard · December 7, 2014

    Hello Tori, Your interview on CBS good morning was excellent. Thanks for all the advice about the experience from the interviewee’s perspective. This is really very interesting. Maybe I’ll be sure to wear red. What about sequins and shiny things? I have a lot of sparkly clothes 😀 Maybe they should give you a bib or something so you can eat the pastries but you’d have to do it pre-makeup. Thanks, Joanne 🙂

    Like

  4. Becky Wragg Sykes (@LeMoustier) · December 8, 2014

    Hi Tori,
    You already know that me and the other TrowelBlazers crew thought you were superb. Such a whirlwind of madness, but so much excellent communication about the science crammed in. Now, what was that people were saying about a series? 😉
    B.

    Liked by 1 person

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