Ever heard of Google?
On Tuesday I went to an enterprising day at the Open University, organised by the "National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement" -- all about how academics and the media can work together in engaging publics (the plural is intentional) with the research being carried out in universites and elsewhere.
If you think that all this was driven by some kind of "impact agenda" then you would be right. But the day was also rather interesting, because it brought together academics and media people who make programmes -- plus some who straddle the divide (that is, academics who make programmes, like Tristram Hunt).
I gave one of the ten minute papers, partly singing the praise of radio -- which (despite In Our Time etc) often gets left out when academics sit down to think about how to storm the media. We all imagine ourselves as the next Schama, Starkey or Hunt in front of the cameras, rather than the microphone.
I shall be doing my own bit in front of the camera over the next few weeks, which I'm quite looking forward to. But radio still has a lot going for it.
For a start, you don't have to bother about what you wear on the radio. There is no need for nice frocks. You can even pick your nose, so long as you have something to say.
It is also wonderfully speedy (so is great for the busy academic). You can walk into a radio studio, do a half hour programme -- and be out within 45 minutes. No waiting around.
Besides radio is less risk averse than tv, for one simple reason -- it is much, much cheaper. You don't lose someone hundreds of thousands if you mess up.
Anyway in the run up to this, as a warm up, I told a story I may have mentioned to you before, about a friend who advised a US tv company many years ago making a series of drama docs about ancient Rome. One day he was teaching a class and the researcher rang up to ask what kid of dogs the Romans had, as they wanted a dog on screen. Off he went to the library and tracked the answer down (it's not as easy as you think).
When he'd done he thought "Hang on a minute. What kind of mug am I? They mangle most of the basic principles of Roman history -- then I waste two hours searching out some spuriously accurate breed of dog."
In response to this, the excellent Martin Davidson of the BBC said that I needn't worry any longer, as researchers could now use Google to find out about Roman dogs, they didn't have to phone the likes of me.
Yes, I thought -- what a relief.Things must have changed.
Until today, when I came home to find that the husband had been rung by a tv researcher, wanting to find out what buildings her programme might film in Antioch and round about. The husband gave plenty of answers at first, but when she pressed her advantage and asked him for a further list of Byzantine objects, the worm turned. His first reaction was to ask if she had actually read anything about this, and suggested a couple of books she could start with (you could substitute Google). When this didnt work, he pointed out that he could only do this on a fee basis (on the "you'll be drawing on more than 40 years of expertise which doesnt come free, at least not on this scale" line).
The result? She ended the conversation rather rapidly.