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Finding Experts Guide

Defining an Expert

Who is an Expert?

“Expertise is said to be acquired through study, education, or experience. However, expertise is often conferred through perception rather than through objective means.

A house painter, for example, is likely to acquire expertise from experience and training, while a nuclear physicist gains the expert appellation by virtue of advanced degrees.

We are looking for someone who can make a decision or give a qualified opinion about how to act relative to some set of circumstances or data. We are looking for someone who knows the facts-someone who has knowledge that we don’t. In the end, it may be that you need not define an expert to identify one. Perhaps we just know, or intuit, when we find an expert and need not worry about the definition.”

Source: Everybody’s an Expert: Finding Business Experts Online, By Roberta Brody & Marydee Ojala; Online, May 1 2008

What to Look for in a Credible Expert

  • Someone affiliated with a reputable organization, university, etc.

  • Someone who has authored works that have been characterized or identified as authoritative in the field in question, by multiple reputable sources.

  • Someone that has been characterized or identified as an authority in his or her field, by multiple reputable sources.

  • Someone who by virtue of their position (in a government agency, for instance) could be considered to be an authority.

No matter where you find a source is listed, check them out. Do your due diligence so that you are not embarrassed later. Run a Google search and a news clip search to look for any controversies, and also see what expert has said about your subject in the past to look for glaring inaccuracies or bias exhibited.

Diversifying Expert Sources

Commit to searching and using diverse experts in your stories.

Broaden How You Define “Expert” from Christina Selby at TheOPENNotebook [she is talking about science journalism, but this should be applied to any reporting]
"Diversifying the voices represented in your stories may also mean expanding your definition of who qualifies as an expert. “People in underrepresented communities have perspectives and experiences vastly different from state or federal officials, scientists, PIOs, and industry,” says Paskus. They may not be traditional “expert” sources, but they are experts on their own lives and the impact scientific developments have on them. Those perspectives can enrich science stories.""


Watch this New Yorker video about a source who's been constantly quoted by the media: The Most Quoted Man in the News. With no special skill or expertise, Greg Packer has been quoted by media outlets nearly a thousand times. Since his name first appeared on newsprint, in 1995, he’s spoken to reporters on subjects ranging from the war in Iraq to the release of the first iPhone. Greg’s campaign to be the most quoted man in news has been so successful that the Associated Press sent its staff a memo that essentially banned interviews with him. That hasn’t stopped Greg’s “career.” Individually, his quotes are utterly unremarkable, but, considered as a whole, they add up to a rather stunning body of work.