News room staffs have shrunk by one-third over the past decade even as competition with leaner, more profitable Web sites has intensified. The remaining reporters are forced to produce more stories with less time to prepare for them.

Reporters increasingly find themselves working on stories on unfamiliar topics, leading to a real risk of errors, misleading stories or the type of pack journalism where everyone interviews the same source regardless of relevance or real expertise.

University PR departments and think tanks also prey on overworked reporters. The most aggressive ones pounce on major news stories, offering reporters interviews with their faculty, whether they are relevant or not to the actual story. Harried reporters feel time pressure to accept this.

My project, Expertpedia, aims to be a newsroom tool to help reporters quickly locate the most relevant experts on the needed topic.

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1. Users would input a search phrase on the site. Expertpedia would then input it into Google Scholar. The author of the first article to pop up, the most cited academic paper, would become the first person on our list.

2. That person’s name would then be rerun through Google Scholar along with the original search to call up all the relevant academic papers he/she has written on the topic.

3. The author’s name would then be run through a Google News search to come up with op-eds and analyses he/she may have written in the mainstream media.

4. The site would then trawl through university Websites to pull up contact information on the author.

5. There would also be space for the author’s to be rated by Expertpedia users based on their ability to explain their ideas well on TV, radio and in print.

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Expertpedia is not a database that needs curating or updating, like some other Websites that aim to bring experts to journalists. But instead, it operates more like a search engine.

There are some problems here. One issue could be timeframe. A plane crash paper about engine failures in WWI era fighter planes might have more citations just because it’s been out longer than other ones. Also, some scientific papers could have more than a dozen authors.

Using Google news to get op-eds would only turn up current ones, not older, but still possibly relevant ones.

Also, how would we get contact information from people retired from academia? How does it deal with people with common names and would bad ratings for one academic accidentally tarnish another one? How do we prevent PR departments from gaming the ratings system?

And the searches initial Google Scholar searches are not always relevant. The fourth entry on the page of Plane Crash Experts is somehow Mercer Mayer, the author of such children’s books as ‘’Frog, Where are You?”

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Nonetheless, I am confident these hurdles could be overcome in development, leaving reporters with a valuable time-saving tool and the public with better, more relevant information.

Expert Sources (seeking coding partner)

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.




Mourning Anja

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan police commander opened fire Friday on two Associated Press journalists, killing Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon — the first known case of a security insider attacking journalists in Afghanistan.

Anja Niedringhaus in 2003.

Anja was a brilliant, sensitive courageous photographer who died photographing hope amid conflict, which she was an expert at.

The point for Anja was that she loved showing, through her photos, the humanity of people in even the most foreign and distressed situations. Fans of her photos can send messages of condolence to her family, they can post their prayers on stories of mourning.

They can make also donations to charities, such as MSF, which help the most vulnerable, the people Anja tried to bring to life in her photos.

But, in the end, it is the work that is her lasting legacy.

So click here and here

and here

In this photo taken by Niedringhaus yesterday, an Afghan girl helps her brother down from a security barrier set up outside the Independent Election Commissionand definitely here

Afghan female lawmakers:

to see the vital images that Anja risked her life to make over the past decade. Mourn her by making her work worthwhile, by seeing it, feeling it, expanding its reach.

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