With shrinking newsrooms, shrinking newsroom budgets and desperate news organizations trying to remain relevant and profitable, journalists are being put under nearly impossible demands. The Oregonian has recently insisted its staffers post three articles a day, several comments on the site AND produce two major projects a quarter.
Reporters under these types of production pressures need to remove as much friction from the reporting process as possible. What I propose is developing a prototype for a usable and trustworthy expert database that journalists can turn to quickly to find relevant scholarly articles, op-eds and university professors with real expertise on a given topic.
This site would need to trawl google scholar, giving heavy weight to the most cited articles, as well as google news and universities’ own web sites to quickly give reporters the information they need and contact details and bios for the top experts in the field.
Let’s say there is a train crash and a reporter is assigned to look at the safety of the U.S. rail system. Often, within minutes after such an event, a newsroom is bombarded with emails from university flaks trying to push their ”experts” into the news stories. Overworked reporters are very likely to bite, meaning the experts with the most aggressive PR machines, rather than those with the most relevance to the topic, will end up being cited.
With my proposed tool, journalists could easily access the most relevant people to interview. They would type ”rail safety” in a search bar and the resource would respond with a list of experts. Under each expert, possibly ranked by google scholar citations as a signifier of relevance, would be a bio culled from their university website, contact details and links to their main research in the field as well as op-eds they might have written on the topic.
There currently is a quite poor resource called Profnet that is run by PRNewswire and is essentially a public relations exercise on behalf of universities seeking to get as much press attention as possible. Again, the spoils go to the most aggressive PR machine, not the most relevant expert. This new tool would be more trustworthy and thus more useful to getting the best information to the journalist, and by extension to the public, in as smooth a manner as possible.
To try to make this a reality, I’d need to partner with an experienced coder who could help me get a prototype off the ground.