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Be Ready When Big News Breaks: Start by Revisiting Your Experts Guide

Last week was a busy one for journalists across the country—and around the world. From the Boston Marathon bombings and Texas fertilizer plant explosion here in the U.S., to the earthquake in China, extended coverage of major, breaking news flooded the media landscape and journalists were scrambling to find expert sources to help make sense of things. Faculty from colleges and universities—with expertise in everything from seismology and architecture to Chechnyan politics and PTSD to chemistry and environmental safety—were in particularly high demand.
So, let last week serve as a reminder to be ready when big news breaks. As a starting point, consider revisiting your online experts guide to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency. Below are a few stellar examples of user-friendly guides with advanced search functionalities, that highlight current events, breaking news and trending topics.
DePaul University
DePaul University experts guide
I am a longtime admirer of DePaul’s online experts guide. Within hours of the Boston Marathon bombings, they had featured a conflict historian who was available to speak about the events on their guide’s homepage. As I’m writing this, an expert who can discuss the ricin letters sent to the White House and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, is highlighted. They also have more extensive search functionality than many guides. For example, they provide options to do a quick search of their database by typing in keywords, or by browsing an extensive list of categories and faculty members. Media relations contacts are listed clearly on the main page so journalists don’t have to go digging for that information, and their database seems to be optimized for top search engine results. Many Google searches for experts on particular topics point you back to DePaul’s guide.
UCLA experts guide
UCLA also does a particularly nice job with their online experts guide. Through their “Today’s Topic” content box, which is currently focused on the Boston Marathon bombings and related manhunt, they link to media advisories listing all experts available for commentary on a particular topic. They also have a “Selected Subjects” section, highlighting other ongoing topics in the news like the U.S. economy, health care reform, and same-sex marriage. Like DePaul, they provide several different search functionalities, but an added feature is their interview-style video of faculty members speaking on newsworthy issues. These are helpful particularly for larger, national broadcast outlets which thoroughly vet experts through a pre-interview process and are often looking for examples of how a particular expert behaves on camera. Though producing the videos takes significant resources, they can be extremely useful in helping to land an interview with influential and wide-reaching media outlets.
Emory University
Emory University experts guide
Emory’s expert guide shares many similar features with DePaul and UCLA. They, too, include university-produced video of faculty experts commenting on issues currently in the news, but they take it one step further. Their videos also include b-roll and are almost like complete news packages, so you really get a sense of the kind of contributions their faculty could make to a media news story. Their “breaking news tip sheets” also provide extensive and quotable commentary from their experts related to specific news stories. They have “packaged” their experts in a way that makes them particularly desirable to journalists.
Some other things to consider when creating—or revamping—your online faculty expert guide include:

  • Make sure search engine optimization is part of your strategy. Many journalists will start with a general Google search for an expert that will lead them to a college or university site/guide.
  • Promote faculty members featured in your guide through news features, press releases and social media, particularly in a breaking news situation. Providing as many ways as possible for reporters to find your experts is key.
  • Update your guide frequently with fresh, newsworthy content. This also helps push your content to the top of Google searches.