Finding Experts

Overview and Purpose

Discover tools to identify & search for diverse experts to help inform your reporting.


This OER covers the following:

  • Grasp the concepts on how to find a credible expert
  • Recognize how to build a diverse expert source list
  • Understand how to find experts in different fields (ex: scholarly, medical, law, government, etc)
  • Discover how to find experts using databases and social media tools
Before-Class Assigned Readings

Please ask students to read these articles before arriving in class:

  1. Albæk, Erik. “The Interaction between Experts and Journalists in News Journalism.” Journalism 12, no. 3 (April 2011): 335–48. doi:10.1177/1464884910392851.
  2. Grauer, Yael. “How LinkedIn Can Help You Find Sources and Break Stories.” The Freelancer by Contently. October 1, 2014
  3. Jensen, Elizabeth. “NPR’s Online Source Diversity: New Data To Help Guide Newsroom.” NPR. July 17, 2018
  4. Quart, Alissa. “The Trouble with Experts.” Columbia Journalism Review. July/August 2010
  5. Wardle, Claire. “A Journalist’s Guide to Working with Social Sources.” FirstDraft. September 2016
Section 1. 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.

DEMO: Have students look at these headlines before delving into finding diverse sources:

    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)

    Section 2. Finding experts in professional practice and study

    QUESTION: What type of experts might you need to look for when reporting? — Then, guide to the following:

    Expanding on what was discussed in Section 1, you are not an expert in everything and you may have to write about topics you are not familiar with at all. Knowing how to reach experts in a variety of different fields and industries will strengthen your reporting.

    Make sure you are familiar with using keywords and search terms when looking for different fields and industries. Being familiar with jargon can help you navigate and find the expert you may need.

    TIP: There are several free expert finding databases available to use, and will come in handy when dealing with the next section on finding experts in different fields/studies.

    Try the following resources (for all remaining fields/studies of expert finding):

    Expert Click

    Expertise Finder

    Expert File

    *NOTE: Let students know these are popular fields/studies but not inclusive experts for their reporting.

    Law and Crime Experts

    Looking for attorneys or criminal experts can seem intimidating or difficult at first.  But, it is not as hard you may think to approach them for your stories

    Attorneys can be found by searching state bar association’s member search database. Most states have an online database, if not reach out and call them for more information.

    Other resources to consider to search for legal professionals:



    When looking for crime experts (criminal justice, prison, police, etc) – it may not be obvious but you can look at faculty experts in their respective fields. You can look at retired professionals from prison, corrections or police departments.

    Similar to scholarly experts, you can find criminal justice professors via universities – this will work for most sources. Another source to consider:

    Scholars Strategy Network

    Business and Nonprofit Experts

    You may look for an expert for a business story, because you are not sure about how the stock market works,  or you need a refresher on the difference between bonds and stocks. Whatever the case may be, tapping into business analysts can seem daunting.

    TIP: Don’t forget to remind students that the strategies can be used in more than one instance. Don’t let them get caught in a hole that they just use one tool or strategy, allow them to build on the concept of finding expert sources

    Look at the following for leads on finding experts in the business world:

    Mergent You can search the Investext tab at the top right for Analyst’s Reports o cmpanies or industries.

    Better Business Bureau


    Ask class: What is a nonprofit?
    Ask class: What is an NGO?

    Helpful link to discuss:

    Here are some resources to find nonprofit/non-government sources:
    Medical and Government Experts

    We’ve addressed several common types of expert sources that may be needed for reporting:

    As mentioned, this is just a starting point, but not an inclusive list. The concept is to take these strategies and apply them to any or all fields of expert sourcing.

    TIP: repeat that using the strategies will work for finding professionals in most fields, when going into the different fields — it is important not to make the strategy seem like it’s only for one field. The topic is separated to emphasis the different types of experts, but it is not inclusive.

    Looking at the medical field, you may want to consult a doctor or nurse for a story on vaccinations, or maybe you can reach out to a medical professional teaching at a university – remind the concepts you learned to navigate, and here are few more to widen your search:

    Association of Health Care Journalists

    PubMed (use in the same manner as Google Scholar)

    Last but not least,  finding government experts can be difficult.  But, most official governments have an organizational directory that shows who works for what organization.

    For example, on the federal government level:

    On a state and local level, looking at New York City for example:

    NYC Green BookState Policy Network (this is nationwide)

    Section 3. Using social media to find experts

    Using social media to find experts is the final component. Social media will help round out your expert source list, and allow you to look beyond the traditional approaches. This combination allows for the best strategy when looking for the credible and diverse experts for your reporting needs.

    ASK: Where would you look on social media for an expert?

    Guide students to understand the importance of LinkedIn and Twitter in particular, but other social networks can provide expert sources as well:

    If you use keywords to find an experts in the Advanced People Search section:

    LinkedIn Advanced People Search

    You can search Twitter profiles by keywords for experts, and compare expertise in those that they follow as well. You will need a Twitter account to access this resource:


    You can use social media to find retired professionals in a field, as mentioned, this is particularly helpful.

    It is equally important to verify your sources, and not get scammed on social media. Don’t quote a bot, for example. Don’t quote a fake source. Do your own vetting – this is true for all sourcing, but be extra careful. Here are some tools to use to spot bots:


    Key Points to Remember:
    • Use diverse sources. Be mindful of this.
    • Gather context for all sides of your topic/issue. One perspective is not enough
    • Remember to utilize the strategy for all fields or studies when looking for experts. It is not a narrowed subject.
    • Understanding jargon and search language will be key in locating the right expert.  
    • Do your own background check on experts. Credibility is essential.
    Assessment Exercises

    Section 1 exercise: Have a complex story? Do an article search on the topic in question and find scholars to speak with you about the topic. How would you find someone to speak to you about the correlation between brain cancer and cell phone usage?

    Section 2 exercise: Use your keywords wisely and precisely. If you are looking for an immigrant expert, where would you search based on what we just discussed? (hint: attorneys aren’t the only experts on the topic)

    Section 3 exercise: Don’t be afraid to use social media. Tools like Twiangulate are very useful. How would you search on Twiangulate for a poet in Queens, NY?


    ASSIGNMENT: Find an example of a story with a credible expert – think about how to strengthen the story by finding another expert to improve the story.