Everyone is an Expert on Something
June 18, 2008 10:39 AM   Subscribe

H.A.R.O., or "Help A Reporter Out," is the brainchild of Peter Shankman (aka skydiver on Twitter). Embracing the philosophy that "Everyone is an expert on something," HARO matches reporters and authors up with sources through the simple process of a sign-up form. Seems like a good match for all the experts here on MeFi.

In Shankman's words:

"On March 20th, 2008, I sent out the first HARO via email, after
moving it off FaceBook. It was a query from the Chicago Tribune,
and it went to 491 people.

This afternoon, I'm sending out the HARO email to over 10,100
members. It has over 15 queries, from more than one country, and
goes to members in over 45 countries."
posted by misha (47 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Reporters fact-checking with real experts: Good
Reporters including even more no-name (or even anonymous) "experts" in stories: Bad

It's not really clear which this is supposed to facilitate.
posted by DU at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Profnet.com has been doing basically the same thing since at least 1999. I've used them extensively over the years.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:50 AM on June 18, 2008

What kind of questions are we talking about here? It's hard to really understand this, or why these reporters can't find their sources via more direct methods, such as university expert directories. I would sign up if there were a way of targeting the questions to things I am actually expert in.
posted by grouse at 10:52 AM on June 18, 2008

Also, this is ridiculously general. Say I have a PhD in basket weaving and I want to help out. I have to wade through hundreds of question on satellite design, hair care, mouse pad manufacturing and the history of scissors looking for a question I can answer? Why not only send me basket weaving-related questions?
posted by DU at 10:53 AM on June 18, 2008

Is anyone signed up for this already who would post some examples of the questions?
posted by grouse at 10:56 AM on June 18, 2008

Profnet costs $$, and HARO is free, which is one point in its favor.

Also, queries from reporters are sent out in emails that list them briefly by number, so you can easily ignore ones that don't pertain to you, so I don't think you really have to wade through anything.

grouse, I have a recent email from HARO, here's a sample query:

Title: Need Experts on Oil, Hedge Funds, the Economy and the Election

Media Outlet/Publication: Australian magazine

Anonymous? No

Specific Geographic Region? No


Deadline: 5:00 PM EASTERN - June 25


"I write quarterly round-ups from the US for Insto magazine, an
Australian business magazine. This quarter, I'll be writing about
these three topics: record-high oil prices, mediocre returns by
hedge funds, and how the economy is likely to play into the
upcoming election. I need experts to speak any of those three
posted by misha at 10:56 AM on June 18, 2008

And what about credentialing? Do the reporters have to do that on their own? WILL they or will misha's sample be answered by some neo-con agitator who responds to all questions with a "Bomb Iran"?
posted by DU at 11:01 AM on June 18, 2008

Hey if I can correct some reporter's confusion of Flash and flash I'd be happy.
posted by Skorgu at 11:04 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

But misha how do they vet the self-identified experts?

For example, there are loads of Internet Economists out there with strong (and often totally wrong) opinions on oil prices or even hedge fund returns. So isn't this a case of garbage in / garbage out? Or are they requesting a CV with your first opinion?

I'm curious as I've had no problems with mainstream journalists finding me for opinions. Two have contacted me on the basis of comments I've made on metafilter, but I've also been approached as I read & comment on finance galley proofs (finance and economics books before they're published) and have participated in academic conferences on finance (mostly Capital Markets topics).

I guess my point is, if a reporter needs a expert I don't think for the topics you've mentioned they're very difficult to find.
posted by Mutant at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Profnet is free to reporters. Maybe the experts have to pay but I've never heard of that.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:07 AM on June 18, 2008

I'd have signed up instantly if they'd called it Captain Save-A-Reporter. Plus then the tagline could have been "Be a CSAR!"
posted by cashman at 11:08 AM on June 18, 2008

Well, I signed up, so if anyone reporters have questions about 1980s GI Joes, bookselling, or particle physics, they now have those niches covered.
posted by drezdn at 11:09 AM on June 18, 2008

I'd have signed up instantly if they'd called it Captain Save-A-Reporter. Plus then the tagline could have been "Be a CSAR!"

I only wish they'd gone and named it Help A Reporter Pal Out, because then it'd be HARPO.

(honk honk)
posted by Spatch at 11:12 AM on June 18, 2008

"How do you say hello in Japanese?"
posted by autodidact at 11:22 AM on June 18, 2008

OPB recently started a similar program, which they're calling their "Public Insight Network." They say you'll only receive one message/question per month, and they ask you to identify your areas of expertise when you sign up, presumably in order to better tailor those messages to your interests.
posted by dizziest at 11:28 AM on June 18, 2008

I like the idea of Public Insight Network, but then it seems like the news will be less timely, since the pertinent info only comes in once a month?

I definitely like the idea of experts, even 'civilian' experts, much better than PR shills with talking points. Especially Mefites, since we are "earnest" in our opinions.
posted by misha at 11:35 AM on June 18, 2008

My sense is that they send out emails more frequently but any given recipient only receives a small subset of them. I'm not entirely sure, though, as I haven't signed up.
posted by dizziest at 11:56 AM on June 18, 2008

Just like Profnet, this looks like it relies on the quality of the journalist in checking their facts - anybody can pay a fee to be listed in one of those big "book of experts," too. Good writers know to check up on the people they're quoting, and bad writers weren't doing that before, anyway.
posted by jbickers at 11:57 AM on June 18, 2008

I'd have signed up instantly if they'd called it Captain Save-A-Reporter. Plus then the tagline could have been "Be a CSAR!"

I only wish they'd gone and named it Help A Reporter Pal Out, because then it'd be HARPO.

Oprah would sue.
posted by wabbittwax at 11:58 AM on June 18, 2008

As a journalist of sorts, I will keep this site in mind, and if an opportunity arises to give it a low-risk test run, I will try it. Favourited for future reference.
posted by WPW at 12:01 PM on June 18, 2008

I've been led to believe that, back in the Elder Days (when the 'pubic/public' typo was spotted and corrected by actual human typesetters, and pteranodons soared overhead), reporters were not only taught the legend of the Authoritative Source, but required to undertake a mighty quest for it, and to bear it in triumph to the newsroom. And lo, it was seen of their Lord Editor, wielder of the fabled Red Pen, and those whose Authoritative Source was garbage were thrust into a den of Linotypes until bespattered with molten lead, their lazier colleagues (and even some of their more industrious colleagues) looking on in awe and dread as the typesetters' mad laughter echoed round.

Some time between then and the present, that must have stopped, because man, I see less serious fact-checking journalism and more PR-retyping all the time. Did they stop teaching sourcing in J-school or something?* And now this. Come on, dudes, if I wanted to get my information from self-appointed experts who hadn't necessarily been cross-checked in any way, I'd go read a Wikipedia dump from 2003. When I want to get my information on a non-crucial subject from self-appointed experts who will probably be vigorously called out on any nonsense they might spew, I use AskMe. When I do buy a newspaper, it's because I want someone who can tell crap from noncrap to go get the facts, and I want it badly enough to pay someone for it. That's what they pay reporters for, you know—seeking out less-available sources and correctly evaluating their credibility.

*No, they just watered down the grading, like they did with the writing classes, or practically any other subject in college.

/cranky media-critic rant

Dang kids! Get offa my lawn!
posted by eritain at 12:12 PM on June 18, 2008 [6 favorites]

Profnet is free for reporters, experts and their PR reps do pay a membership fee. Newswise is a somewhat similar service that is free for both, but their membership is restricted to PIO's of institutions, government agencies, research groups etc. I've used both extensively for years, on the publicity side.

HARO looks interesting. Thanks for posting this. :)
posted by zarq at 12:19 PM on June 18, 2008

On non-preview: Good writers know to check up on the people they're quoting, and bad writers weren't doing that before, anyway.

Yeah. I guess what I'm saying is, I'd rather see the time, money, and inventiveness spent to create these 'good writers' of whom you speak; this doesn't seem to add anything to what the phone directory, the university faculty directories, and the Internet already provide (access to potential sources).
posted by eritain at 12:26 PM on June 18, 2008

This is the kind of thing that would get me fired. I may be standing here moving my mouth and words may be coming out, but I am not your source. You didn't hear it from me.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:29 PM on June 18, 2008

The Public Insight Network thing is the brainchild of some folks from American Public Broadcasting (Marketplace, Weekend America, A Prairie Home Companion, etc). A great idea if you ask me.
posted by YoungAmerican at 1:17 PM on June 18, 2008

What worries me about this service is that it simply feeds the monster. Reporters think they know which area of expertise they need to cover the subject, and then they go looking for the expert in that field to shore up their intuitions.

In my own area of expertise, we run into this all the time. By the time someone comes to you with a request for advice, they've already formed their mental model, and it's usually intractable. To give them a good solution, either exact or approximate, you have to go back to the original problem and formulate a different set of questions.
posted by Araucaria at 1:18 PM on June 18, 2008

Seriously: nobody's linked to this yet? Haro haro haro!
posted by penduluum at 1:21 PM on June 18, 2008

Wow, I met this guy in the Oakland airport last xmas!

A high-energy fellow to say the least.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 1:39 PM on June 18, 2008

I reiterate my earlier comment on this subject, when the idea of such a site was proposed in AskMe.

That said, I've still bookmarked most of the sites listed in this thread.
posted by limeonaire at 1:47 PM on June 18, 2008

I only wish they'd gone and named it Help A Reporter Pal Out, because then it'd be HARPO.

Oprah would so sue. Girl knows a company trademark, even if she can't tell an addict from a frustrated novelist.
posted by Sparx at 2:00 PM on June 18, 2008

haro, of which I've been a subscriber for nearly eight months, does rarely ask for expert advise but frequently for "looking for examples/opinions" kind of comments. it seems to work fairly well in establlishing initial contact or pointing reporters in a direction. think of it as a very large phonebook.

as such the critisism from those who haven't read the emails seems overly harsh and undeserved.
posted by krautland at 2:33 PM on June 18, 2008

I'm fairly regularly interviewed by one reporter or another as an "expert." Here are my general impressions -

Many "experts" have a PR team behind them. The PR team is a group of people that have their own networks whereby they field requests for "experts" who are their clients. Consequently, self-appointed experts are the name of the game. This is not to say the people being interviewed are not experts. Often they are. Instead I say this to second what others have pointed out - that nothing is new in how very prominent institutes get their quotes from self-appointed experts. I'm not sure how else you get to become an expert. Self promotion is required for anyone to have ever heard of you.

Interviews often happen just hours before deadlines. This leaves no time for fact checking much less making sure your expert is a "expert." Journalists are often assigned topics they know little about. Before a journalist writes about a topic, they too should be somewhat of an expert, but they often go about trying to cram in an understanding on highly complex, even technical, issues in less than 12 hours before deadline. Our current crop of journalists lack in any deep understanding of any complex issues - not just science, but especially science. It is sad. No wonder we have very few that question our world leaders and write intelligent pieces - the authors are frankly not qualified.

Deadlines are not internal editing deadlines, but press cutoffs. Editors almost never go back and do fact checking. There is no time. In all of my interviews, the only time I've ever been called by an editor to see who I am or whether I was being quoted accurately was when I gave an interview on how to cook certain foods for a monthly lifestyle magazine - WAY out of my usual area of "expert" opinion and an interview that came about by a friend talking to a friend who was a journalist. In all of my national and international interviews on my areas of expertise, I never have been called for fact checking and have never seen the copy before it went out.

Misquotes and false context are the norm, not the exception. Strangely, the only journalist to get it 100% right without fact checking was a British fellow for the Independent. Go figure. Aside from the food article, I've only had about 30% of my quotes be totally accurate, and 10% of those placed in a completely appropriate context. Usually these errors are to no harm as my main point struggled and succeeded to get through, but if you are quoting me as an expert, wouldn't you want to make sure you captured my opinion just right? Apparently not. I've yet to be painted as a jerk, moron, or totally misguided by the quote selections, but I dread the day it will happen.
posted by Muddler at 3:24 PM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

*signs up*

*waits for questions regarding improvement of maximum yield when scrounging cigarette butts from the street*

A good tip is to hang around the Smoking Areas of buildings downtown. They usually have sand in the ashtrays so the roach is generally less malformed, and with people being in such a hurry, sometimes you can find 'em with only a couple puffs taken out. And the ones with lipstick stains make you feel saucy.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:54 PM on June 18, 2008

and the history of scissors

OK, who else went to Wikipedia after reading that?
posted by dirigibleman at 4:30 PM on June 18, 2008

H.D.I.G.P, or How Do I Get Paid?
posted by mrgrimm at 4:56 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would be so in for this if I actually had any sort of positive, or even non-negative feelings towards journalists.
posted by signal at 6:27 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

So, let me get this straight: someone expects people to help the media for free. WTF?

I can only assume that there are a number of people out there whose penchant for minor celebrity (wait a sec, does the patsy even get credited in the article?) easily overrides any basic and well-founded mistrust of anything to do with any representative of a commercial media outlet. How odd.
posted by Cods at 7:23 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a journalist: this site is a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. The thing about experts is that they're not actually that hard to find. They tend to advertise their existence, either by hanging out with other experts at a place like a university (or, as I like to call them, "Expertoriums"), by being in business, or by being published writers or bloggers on the subject. In other words, nothing that Google can't connect you with.

Does this mean that the only experts worth listening to are the ones with some kind of public presence? No, but public presence counts for a lot. For one thing, it's a form of credentialling right there. For another, it gives the source a professional reputation to protect and an incentive to speak carefully and accurately.

But here's the flip-side: what reporters are constantly looking for is people who fit certain criteria for "lifestyle" stories. Anyone who knows a working journalist has probably been on the receiving end of an e-mail asking "if you or anyone you know has paid for expensive cat surgery / is a vegan who can't stop eating at McDonalds / lost a great-great-grandparent in the Great Fire of 1904 / can't stop buying Mike Myers paraphenalia." Remember, three's a trend, so there'll always be a journalist looking for that third person who can't buy enough mini Mini-Me's to bolster his story.

It always struck me that that's the problem that cries out for a crowdsourced solution. But the challenges are many. For one thing, a journalist couldn't put out the request without tipping off her competition to what she was working on. For another, allowing sources to self-select is a dicey proposition. Such a service would be bait for cranks, self-promoters, and PR agents who fancy themselves sources (I got a PR message today from one whose job description billed her as a "Senior Editorial Consultant.")

In the end, I've found the best way to get sources is good, old-fashioned social networking: find someone by hook or by crook. Interview them. If they're credible, ask if they know anyone else who I should speak to. Get names, make calls, repeat. But this only works if you have time on your hands... and these days, it's a lucky journalist who does.

Sorry. That's all.
posted by bicyclefish at 7:36 PM on June 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm stunned that anyone in their right mind would want to help a reporter. Seriously, wtf?
posted by dobbs at 7:51 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cods, dobbs... I certainly understand that a lot of people have reservations about the media. They have reason to. (One of the first things you learn is that you don't necessarily belong to the general public's favourite profession.)

But then, people help journalists every day, for a zillion (alright, at least three) different reasons. Since you added "seriously" to your "wtf," I guess I'd ask the reverse of your question: why would anyone issue a blanket condemnation of helping reporters?
posted by bicyclefish at 8:04 PM on June 18, 2008

I'm not really answering your question... well, perhaps in a roundabout way.

1. To paraphrase a situation described by Sir David Attenborough in Life on Air (the book, not the show: paraphrased because I can't find the exact quote);
'...at this early stage of television, the news was the sole domain of BBC Radio, as it was thought that the visual element of TV might distract viewers from important stories (such as the national treasury report) with news that was less important but was associated with more interesting pictures (such as a house fire, or a cat up a tree)...'.
Perhaps we'd not now have Fox 'News' and 'journalism' of its ilk now, if the only outlets for journalism remained the newspapers and the radio? Perhaps / Oooh, looky, a live car chase filmed from a helicopter, ooooo! Hey look, it's a Page 3 girl next to paparazzi photos of Princess Di in a tunnel / sorry, what was I saying?

2. The reporter is working for a profit-making entity, who will make money from the product (article, news story, editorial, etc)* or (most likely) from the advertising sold as a result of eyes drawn to the product.
Where's my cut?
Actually, I don't want a cut, and I wouldn't even be unhappy with the whole commercial arrangement of news:money if I saw more positive benefits come out of the output. But generally the news is 95% wilfully useless negative crapful spun vaguely depressing irrelevancies and perhaps up to 5% useful information. Not a great trade for my/your assistance to reporters.

Your mileage may, of course, vary rather wildly.

*Except in the case of a not-for-profit (generally Government-supported) media entity, for example the ABC in Australia, BBC in the UK, etc. These do, of course, have their own slant, but it's easier to figure out, and it (generally) isn't just following the money.
posted by Cods at 11:06 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Any of the reporters looking for an expert on Nothing? I'd be pretty good at that.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:28 PM on June 18, 2008

Shameless plug: Sense About Science does something similar in the UK.
posted by SciencePunk at 3:50 AM on June 19, 2008

Peter Shankman is a shameless self-promoter. Which is why I'm surprised he was able to steal the ProfNet idea and actually execute it. Glad he did this, but I have to say, I have no respect for this guy. He's just another clueless PR guy in my book.
posted by onepapertiger at 9:23 AM on June 19, 2008

why would anyone issue a blanket condemnation of helping reporters?

I've never met an honest reporter in my life. As for cops, my natural instinct is to distrust anyone who seeks to be one.
posted by dobbs at 5:36 PM on June 19, 2008


I'm curious as to why you'd call me a shameless self-promoter and have no respect for me. Do you know me? Have we ever met or interacted either personally or professionally? If so, I'm curious as to what in my actions or interactions has caused you to come to this opinion.

And if we haven't met, and you have limited knowledge of me, I invite you to respond to this dialogue - Like I said, I'm intrigued by your comments - but more specifically, what prompted them.

In so far as "stealing" Profnet's idea, I did no such thing. Profnet charges roughly $6,500 per year for access to their feeds, thereby severely limiting the amount of sources who journalists can reach. HARO, on the other hand, allows anyone to join. As always, it's up to the reporter to determine whether they believe this person to be credible. But by opening up the universe of sources in the world to journalists, I'd say I'm offering a much better service than Profnet. Also, as you may or may not know, HARO is free, and supported by a host of wonderful advertisers.

Best regards,

Peter Shankman
(Emailed through MeFi mail and commented)
posted by shankman at 5:12 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Heh. Hiya, Peter. Welcome aboard.
posted by cortex at 9:20 AM on June 26, 2008

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