Journalists, you are welcome at CERN!

The easiest way for journalists from all over the world to really grasp what happens here at CERN is to come and have a guided tour of the facilities and get the information directly from selected scientists. Renilde Vanden Broeck, senior CERN Press Officer, is there to organize the visit and take the best care of them.


Renilde Vanden Broeck during the fact-finding visit by Ron Howard and his team before filming "Angel and Demons" in 2007.

Visit requests from the media come in through different channels, mostly by e-mail or phone, and after that the CERN Press Office talks to the journalists directly to make sure that the visit matches their requirements as closely as possible. "The various kinds of media - the written press, radio, agencies, photographers and TV - all have different needs, and each visit is individually tailored", says Renilde. For several years now, there has been a lot of interest from the media in covering CERN, the LHC and its experiments in different ways, from video news to documentaries, written articles and blog entries. Even media that don’t usually deal with physics topics are increasingly showing an interest in CERN, to the point that the name of the Laboratory appeared more than 5500 times in the world's media in the last two months of 2009.

Renilde’s role and expertise is to put the journalists at ease and help them enjoy particle physics, which can be quite a daunting topic. “I love the excitement and the passion of the scientists here at CERN. I find it extremely rewarding when I see that suddenly the journalists pick this excitement up themselves, and usually they do! My fellow press officers in other labs are often very jealous that I work for CERN. While they feel lucky if they manage to welcome a few media representatives a year, we easily receive a several hundred from all over the world!" However, given the limited resources, Renilde also has to cope with the other side of the coin and admits that “even if journalists are our priority, we often have to ask them for more than a month's notice for a visit because we are so popular!”

Beside its day-to-day activities, the CERN Press Office also organised the special event for journalists on the occasion of the LHC start-up in 2008. “In one day, we welcomed nearly one hundred and fifty media. More than forty TV stations and around fifteen radio stations were connected to the live event”, she recalls.
The next big challenge for Renilde and her colleagues is the organisation of a media event at CERN for the first high-energy collisions at 3.5 TeV per beam. This event is expected in a few weeks from now, and all the major international media have already signed up to attend it. “We have set up a dedicated website for the journalists, where they can find up-to-date information and materials. And for those who want access to short up-to-the minute information, CERN tweets on”.

Renilde’s career to date

Renilde’s background is mainly in languages and communication. Her mother tongue is Dutch (Flemish) but she is fluent in four other languages: English, French, German and Italian.

Before coming to CERN in 1992, she worked for five years in Brussels, her native city. During that time, she experienced several kinds of jobs, from receptionist to secretary and HR assistant. One of the most valuable experiences for her was the internship she did in the Public Affairs department of Exxon Chemical in Brussels, where she learned a lot about risk communication.

In 1992 she started her career at CERN as an assistant to the Head of Communication in the Press Office. Since then, she has increasingly dealt directly with journalists and in 1998 and 1999 she completed a two-year Science Communication diploma at the Birkbeck College in London during which she did a short internship at the Swiss newspaper “Tribune de Genève”. This internship gave her the opportunity to see first-hand how a newspaper is run on a daily basis.

Box: Monitoring CERN’s presence in the world’s media

CERN press release distribution and media monitoring are outsourced to an external company, PR Newswire. The company keeps the contact list of journalists and other media representatives (over 3000 journalists from all over the world) up-to-date, thus providing the CERN Press Office with the tool it needs to send out information in a simple and timely way.

The other important task of PR Newswire is monitoring how CERN is featured in the media. The company provides a complete press review on a daily basis, making the articles available for download. On an ordinary day, CERN is mentioned in between one and two hundred articles. However, when there is a special event like the start-up in 2008, the media coverage can reach a few thousand articles a day!

by Francesco Poppi