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For Scholars Only
Being a Good Expert Source
News media provide access to a classroom of thousands. As someone with expertise on religion, you can enhance its public understanding by making yourself available to journalists.
Your Role as an Expert Source
A journalist is unlikely to be calling you in order to confront you with controversy, as a journalist might a public figure. Being a scholar, you are likely being contacted because you have expertise. The journalist wants to better inform the public about a topic you care about.
Do not be surprised by a journalist's lack of knowledge in your area of expertise or about religion in general. A journalist might, within a five-year period, switch from covering education to covering business to covering religion, or might be a general assignment reporter, switching subject areas daily. As skilled writers, journalists are expected to be able to write on almost any topic.
Do not expect a journalist to develop a topic as fully as a scholar would. Journalists are generally allowed space to write little more than the basic facts. Even a lengthy feature article is short compared to a scholarly journal article.
Do not expect a journalist to show you the story before it comes out. 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.
If after being interviewed you like the story that comes out, tell the journalist but avoid saying "thank you," which journalists tend to hear as expressing appreciation for a favor, and writing news as a favor is considered unethical. Do not send gifts; they are seen as an attempt to influence future stories.
If you dont like the story that comes out, dont fire off an angry letter to the editor or complain to the journalists superiors. Remember, you want to be regarded as a credible sourceby journalists and the publicand an angry letter can diminish credibility. Simply call the journalist and calmly state your concerns. If you then want to write a letter to the editor to educate readers about something important the journalist missed or misconstrued, let the journalist know, as a courtesy, that you are writing the letter for that reason, not as a personal attack.
If you have a bad experience with one journalist, don't let that taint your
opinion of all journalists. There are many excellent journalists.
When a journalist contacts you, expect him or her to be polite, but hurried. A journalist is ruled by deadlines much different from those of a scholar. Whereas a scholar often has months to write a journal article, a journalist often has only a few hours to write a news article. Because the journalist has such tight deadlines and works on many articles simultaneously, the journalist generally won't have time to read your journal article or book nor time to do library research.
Given tight deadlines, a journalist needs a prompt response when attempting to contact you. If you don't have time for a brief discussion when a journalist first tries to reach you, it's important nonetheless to promptly acknowledge the journalist's message and let the journalist know your availability. If you answer the phone to find a journalist wanting to discuss a topic you'd like time to think about first, it's OK to request a later time for discussion. But punctually keep agreements you make. Responding even fifteen minutes late may be too late to be of use, and your punctuality affects your reputation as a source.
Many journalists do not work typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours. For
newspaper journalists, a typical day may begin around 2 p.m. and end near
midnight, so news will be fresh for the morning paper. Since journalists have
little time to reach a source and cannot use one that's unavailable, it's
important that journalists be able to call you at home. Given that
Religionsource includes 5,000 scholars in 1,000 areas of expertise, you are
unlikely to get bombarded by calls; most scholars will get no more than one
call a year.
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by the American Academy of Religion, the
world's largest association of religion scholars. The AAR neither endorses nor
rejects any religious belief or practice.