For Scholars Only
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why does a journalist want to talk with me?
You are an expert in your field and can add depth and context to the story.
Reporters generally talk to lay people, spokespersons for advocacy groups, and
religious leaders for their stories. With your expertise, you can add another
dimension to the story.
- Why do journalists need the information immediately?
Journalists generally work on daily deadlines; television reporters, on hourly
- Is it OK to call a journalist back when I'm not so busy?
Certainly, but schedule a time and be sure to call the journalist.
- How do I convey information without being quoted or named in the story?
You can, if the journalist agrees, speak "on background," in which
case the journalist can use what you say, but not your name, in a story. In
effect, you become an "anonymous source." Or you can speak
"off-the-record," in which case what you say cannot appear in a story
without your prior consent. Bear in mind three things: 1) either restriction
applies only to what you say after the journalist expressly agrees to
itbe explicit; 2) some journalists may not agree; and 3) some public
relations specialists advise against attempting such agreements, noting that
through a mistake your name or what you say could end up in the news anyway.
Why wouldn't the journalist let me read the story before it is printed?
News deadlines generally won't permit doing so, and journalists view the
expectation to preview a story as an infringement of press freedom. Such
previewing can imply that the source has officially approved the story, which
can call into question a journalist's reputation as a neutral observer.
- Why didn't the journalist use more of the information I
Space can especially be a problem when a journalist wants to present a variety
of viewpoints, thus having room for only a snippet of your interview, if that.
This doesn't mean the journalist didn't find your interview valuable; in fact,
your comments might have shaped the story even if you weren't quoted.
- Why did the story not reflect how it was presented to me at my
Usually this occurs for one of two reasons: 1) following your interview, the
story changed based on information you or another source provided, in which
case the journalist should have called you back to let you know; or 2) although
rare, the journalist intentionally misrepresented himself, in which case you
probably don't want to cooperate with that journalist again.
- Why does the story never seem to grasp the intricacies of the subject?
Besides having less space and time, journalists work differently in other ways
too. Scholars need to use scholarly methodologies; journalists need only
verified documentationthrough human and nonhuman sources (official
documents, records, etc). Scholars acquire in-depth knowledge about a few
subjects; journalists acquire surface knowledge about many subjects. Scholars
write primarily for their peers; journalists, for the mass public. The
differences in these roles dictate different ways of communicating to those
audiences: scholars are educators; journalists are informers.