For many years now, Tilburg University scholars have been consulted by the media to interpret a wide range of current issues. Many scholars also make contributions to editorial pages and opinion pages. In 2011, 2013 and 2015, Tilburg University was the best communicator of all universities in the Netherlands, according to the bi-annual national “valorization ranking” list composed by Elsevier weekly magazine in collaboration with ScienceWorks. Media performances are perceived as having a kind of valorization impact that helps to make scientific insights accessible to wider audiences. Scholars in the media are also providing a kind of free publicity, promoting the University’s name with target groups such as prospective students and their parents, funding agencies, stakeholders, policymakers, etcetera. Monitoring media performances also gives us an idea of the effect of science communication, which has a much greater impact than that of press releases on doctoral degrees, publications or inaugural lectures.
Tilburg University was the first to systematically document where and how frequently its scholars were making their presence felt in the media. In 1990, then economy spokesperson Clemens van Diek launched a modest and fun “media champions” feature in university journal Univers, monitoring people’s media performances, such as contributions to social debates (editorials or essays) or news comments in (digital) newspapers, journals and on radio or TV. His harvest would then produce a list of the most eye-catching researchers: the “media champions.” An important condition in his tally was that mention had to be made of the University’s name, and the number of mentions rose rapidly: from 868 in 1990 and 1,358 in 2002 to 5,278 in 2010. There were 6,548 mentions in 2011, which was largely due to the Stapel fraud affair (see: scientific integrity) and to the fact that relevant mentions on the Internet were also included as of 2009.
In its first edition, it was former Rector Magnificus Ruud de Moor who proved to be the media champion; in the last edition in 2013, it was Sylvester Eijffinger, Professor of Monetary Economics. He would have been the most-mentioned scientist in the media for the tenth time in 2014, if the media champions feature had not been discontinued in that year. In fact, it terminated in 2013 not only because the number of mentions kept going up and up but also because it became more and more difficult and time-consuming to decide what really mattered in the exploding media landscape, in which the Internet and social media were beginning to play a bigger and bigger part. The media champions feature itself, moreover, was not undisputed: was it really the best researchers who made the most noise? The Executive Board thought it could do without the feature, as other outlets had meanwhile become available, such as the valorization ranking list. Media performances, as a matter of fact, are still being monitored (see the “University in the Media” webpage) but in a more theme-based and haphazard fashion now, mainly aiming to inform schools for the benefit of their valorization reports.