– The importance of building credible and diverse expert sources

Who is a credible expert?

QUESTION: Ask the class who they consider an expert.

DEFINE: An expert is someone who is knowledgeable in their field, this expert should have an expressed opinion or bias. As you gather research, you will need to find credible experts to support and/or provide background for your reporting.

One expert opinion in reporting to share with students:

“In general, newspapers don’t have a policy about whom they call an expert,” says Michael Hoyt, executive editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, a well-regarded trade magazine. “You look for someone who knows the beat, someone who doesn’t have a political ax to grind. But it’s really a judgement call. I’m not sure if you could turn that into a policy.”

Source: John Hopkins Magazine, “The Accidental Pundit” November 2006

Credibility is important when finding an expert. Being aware of what to look for in a credible expert is essential.  Some factors to look for in a credible expert:

  • Affiliation (reputable organization, university, business, etc)
  • Author (respected in field, supported by other reputable sources)
  • Authority and Virtue (respected and identified by others in field, these go hand in hand when dealing with government agencies for example)  

You are responsible for doing your own research, do not take anything at face value. You do not want to be embarrassed by not properly vetting your source, or worse repeating mistakes someone else has made. Take your time and find credible experts.

Stress the importance of diverse sources

When finding credible experts, it is not only important that they are reputable and credible as stated above. You must emphasize the importance of diverse sources. There has been quite a bit of research and opinion on this topic.

QUESTION: Ask students where they think they should find diverse sources, then guide them to the following sources for discoverability:

Scholarly experts

You’ve grasped the concept of the importance of credibility and diversity in your sources. Let’s delve into how to find particular experts in a field, starting with scholarly sources

SCENARIO: You are assigned a story that you have little experience in, but you have a quick turnaround for your deadline. What should you do?

Let students know that it is a good idea to tap into scholarly experts as a source — you can find them in/at:

  • Colleges/Universities

Most if not all universities have faculty directories that list expertise in fields, or specialized to speak to media. Use those tools to find an expert.

  • Trade publications

Provide expert sources to others in their respective fields. A better fit than a consumer magazine that may be geared toward a general audience.

  • Google Scholar

Using Google Scholar will help you discover who is publishing work on a particular topic. You can use your public library or academic library to dig deeper into databases that have particular topics too.

Using database resources

Being connected to your local or academic library will make a difference in the sources you have available to you to discover credible and diverse experts.  Some database resources that will be listed below are not available freely, and you will need library access to do so. With that said, there are plenty of resources that are available for free that do not require library access.

TIP 1: Learn the database language of a particular database to be able to find experts in stories.

EXAMPLE NexisUni search: alternative w/2 energ! w/10 (expert or authority or professor or fellow) w/30 (said or says)