Sunday, November 14

The Givers of Quote

Daniel Okrent weighs in on frequent trips to the expert Roladex to fill up empty paragraph inches. See, it's not just the trade press that does it. Not that there's anything wrong with experts, especially if the expert has something fresh to say. We've just been thinking we need to expand the stable--especially when certain analysts get complacent about getting their names in the paper and don't make much of an effort anymore.

I think the spread of services like ProfNet should help make the market for experts seeking publics and reporters seeking smart words to stick in the middle of the inverted pyramid more efficient, more liquid, and more competitive. Phoning me up in the middle of a production day to pitch someone will hopefully become a thing of the past, hint, hint.

But the fact is that we're in a time-pressured business, and Plan B is always going to be that guy or gal who always comes through for you with great quote at the drop of a hat.

PR people tend to think reporters are corrupt nepotists in this regard, but the fact is that if you're on deck, warmed up, situationally aware, and ready to speak in original, well-formed English sentences, tailored to the situation, when the phone rings, then you've got an edge, and that's the innocent explanation and trade secret: We work in a prose factory, and publishing yada yada that sounds good but means nothing, if distasteful, is preferable to dead air and sticking a house ad in at the last minute to take up space. I suppose I could get drummed out for revealing the secret sauce. But I swear to you I try to minimize it myself in my own modest corner of the truth-discovery industry. Writes Dr. Dan:

there are often good reasons to turn to experts - for instance, when the desk dumps an assignment in your lap three hours before deadline, on a subject you know little about. But there's also the need to protect that precious piece of the journalistic ethos, objectivity - in the words of one deputy news editor, Philip Corbett, "not only a worthy goal, but probably our most important one: the goal that underpins most of our other ideals, like fairness and accuracy." And reporters think that getting an "expert" to comment adds the aura of objectivity.

In recent years, though, the concept of objectivity has taken a bit of a beating. Some journalists (and critics of journalists) argue that it is in fact unachievable; we all bring our experiences, sensibilities and innate prejudices to the door, and even the act of attempting to leave them on the stoop will alter our approach.

That's how I feel about it: Of course you're making judgments, as a reporter, about what to put in and what to leave out. It's part of your job: boiling thing downs to what in your judgment is essential. But you should include cues about the process, including some info that would indicate why a particular analyst or talking head should be listened to on this particular subject. Not just that they cover the general area and got back to you by press time, but that they worked on a deal involving the parties, or have an unique theory, or have a good track record on similar cases, or SOMETHING. I saw a guy who was very useful to talk to last week sneaking in on a generic basis this week and I'm going to cite this Okrent thing when I bring it up in the post-mortem (provided time is available).

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