THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

November 15, 2012

We at Times Higher Education are used to asking the questions when it comes to interviews with academics. It was refreshing, therefore, to read Bill Tierney's view from the other side of the fence, in his latest blog post about how academics can work with journalists.

On the 21st Century Scholar blog, Dr Tierney - director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California - considers whether the time he invests in "15 media and related interview requests a month" is well spent.

"My work improves by talking with the vast majority of reporters who want to get it right, even when they are working under tight deadlines and education may not be their beat," he writes.

However, although good journalists are in the "vast majority", he says, there are other, not so good ones. Dr Tierney goes on to give "four examples I have had over the last several months that give reporters a bad name, or at least make me pause".

First up is "the bad student": a journalist who has failed to do the necessary homework.

"If I send a reporter a short article or an op-ed I have written because they have asked me to send them some background, then I expect them to have read it prior to the interview," he writes. "If I give someone, for example, a 700-word op-ed I have written about college access, it's disconcerting if the interviewer begins with, 'Have you ever written anything about college access?'"

Next up on Dr Tierney's list of shame is the impolite "yawner".

"I recently had an interview with someone who yawned her way through the interview. At one point I asked, 'Am I boring you?' She said, 'Oh no. I just had a late night last night.' That's not only bad manners, it's unprofessional.

"If you can't bring your 'A' game to the interview then don't arrange the interview."

Third up is "the sleuth", whose requests require too much detective work to decipher.

Dr Tierney writes: "Generally, an individual sends a request via email. Sometimes I finish reading the email and I have no clue what the reporter wants, or who he/she is writing for, or the timeframe for the interview. Any of those goofs and I'll say no."

Finally, Dr Tierney has no time for reporters who fall into a category he identifies as "the pest".

"If I agree to an interview that does not mean I am your referral service or BFF," he writes, referencing the text-speak acronym for "best friend forever".

"I have had interviewers ask me who else they might speak with, and that's fine. Asking me for their emails and phone numbers is not; I'm not your secretary. It's possible that sending a follow-up email may be useful and fine; it's equally possible that sending a follow-up email, or worse, several emails, is creating a relationship that I reserve for my grad students."

Dr Tierney concludes by describing the vast majority of journalists as "professional, hard-working, sincere, and a delight", but reiterates that he has encountered "these four types" more than once. Rest assured that we at THE have taken note.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com.

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