what makes you an expert?

A journalistic fire has been reborn in me. I knew it was there, somewhere, lying dormant. After college (and never becoming a reporter), part of that curiosity died. It disappeared within public relations somewhere. I never really got it back. Until now, maybe.

The other day I had an opportunity to attend a panel discussion held by the The discussion was on the state of talk radio today versus years past. Radio personalities from Pittsburgh shared their experiences in the business, their thoughts toward the future, and what’s gone down over the past few years. The main theme? Corporatization. Are you surprised?

With the corporatization of radio has come the age of repeat messaging. You can turn on the radio in Minnesota and be hearing a broadcast from Boston. Some of that information may be relevant to you. But most of it really isn’t all. Keep in mind, we’re talking about talk radio – not the crappy pop tunes we listen to on the way to work (guilty party here). 

Along with corporatization, there is this notion out there that everyone is an expert. Some of the educators in the room commented that their students often say, “I read that on the internet.” When asked about the source, they respond, “I don’t know. On a blog.” Not from a newspaper or a news clip. Not from a researcher who’s been studying in the lab. From a person who’s writing a personal blog about their life.*

The way we used to get reputable information is slowing dying: newspapers, tv, and radio. Those are thought to be old fashioned.

Over the past month, I’ve met a slew of former and current reporters in all media fields. Here’s what I’ve learned: they have that journalistic edge. They are curious and thoughtful. They are looking for the heart of the story and the best way to educate the population. They may have a side in terms of politics, but for the most part – they are unbiased.

I am all about the dawning of the internet and see its advantages. But I’ve also met these people. And they’ve lost jobs. And they’re losing jobs. The profession is dwindling because people think the internet is the expert.

I don’t know what makes you an expert on something. Is it pure life experience? Is it research in a lab, or a dissertation? I can tell you that from my professional role, an expert is something who’s been studying something for a very long time and knows the field in and out. They are usually curious people and aware. They are usually good people. But that’s just been my experience.

weigh on these subjects. the state of media. experts in our field. the internet and blogging. I’d love to hear from you. 

*Clearly, I write a blog. Right now, I am writing about what I’ve learned about radio. In no way does that make me an expert. So, if you’re a student out there – talk to someone else. The only thing I’m an expert on is my own life. And I share my life because I want to her about yours too. 

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One Comment on “what makes you an expert?”

  1. October 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    I am a former journalist and a former – within the past year – university research librarian – meaning I taught workshops and helped students & faculty conduct academic research, so this issue (well all the questions you ask in this post) is really one that gets me going! The whole reason I got out of journalism – newspapers – was because it just didn’t pay enough. People were – still are – getting laid off, and I was concerned about how I would pay off my student loans when I couldn’t foresee a steady future for the field. Enter librarianship, which is yet another area that is being completely revamped by technology (something else I could write pages on)!

    Anyway, what shocked me most about working at a university library was that students just didn’t know how to tell what made a source a “good” source. They didn’t know how to investigate and dig deep to find the experts on topics they were writing about – mainly it seemed they wanted information that was the easiest to get, usually Google searches. We tried to teach them to evaluate articles and information and discover where bias might be found online or in published material, but I always felt like it was a losing battle. Thus, I guess you could say I’m a disillusioned ex-librarian. Part of the problem is that learning how to evaluate information and sources needs to begin way earlier in students’ careers – in elementary school. And it seems like technology is hindering many students’ abilities to think for themselves. They can easily find blog posts or websites to use for their required X number of sources in a school paper, but they don’t know how to think critically about what Google returns. Or they don’t want to know – maybe they just want a grade.

    You were right when you write that journalists “… are curious and thoughtful. They are looking for the heart of the story and the best way to educate the population.” They want to get the information out there. They want to offer all sides of a story so the public can make informed decisions. And they want the information in their stories to come from “experts,” but types of experts can vary depending on the type of story or issue. Your question what makes an expert an expert is a good one. I guess it depends on the situation. Also how do people evaluate the information they receive from those experts? And how can journalists continue to inform the public when their industry seems to be shrinking? (Things I think about daily.)

    I love the internet, and I love blogs, but what frustrates me sometimes is that so many bloggers spout out information and maybe even quote other websites or books, but they don’t think about whether the fact that the information they’re giving is coming from reputable sources (many “healthy living bloggers” do this, I feel). Personal experience can be useful to many people, and it definitely has its place, but factual information needs to be backed up by research or “experts” of some kind. If someone spouts “facts” I want to see where they got their information.

    Ok, this is really long, and I feel like I’m rambling and running around in circles, but all this to say – the issues you brought up in your post are things I think about constantly (I could keep going on this subject for days!). I absolutely love the field of journalism and information in general, and it is fascinating how technology is changing things, but I also worry about that what the future of information will look like.

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