Never let it be said – though many would – that journalists don’t have any original thoughts. However the best journalists are those who enlist experts to help them create their story.
That is where you come in. Your specialist knowledge – whether you are an economist, a meteorologist, or simply an eyewitness to an event – is vital to the journalist. Journalists know a little about a lot, but rarely enough on any one subject to write or broadcast an authoritative piece without specialist input.
Whatever your particular area of expertise, they are relying on you to give them the information they need. It is therefore very important that you deliver this information in a coherent, clear fashion. If you fail to do so, the journalist may come away from the interview with the wrong facts – and if you are being directly quoted, that could be personally damaging.
There may be occasions when you do not feel you can help the journalist, either because your knowledge is incomplete or because the information you have is confidential. But if you are in a position to provide useful information, it may well be in your interests to do so. Establishing a position of authority on a subject will almost invariably enhance your wider status.
You may be asked for straightforward facts. That is relatively easy; either you know the answers or you don’t. In the case of an event you have witnessed, your role will often be very similar to a reporter on the scene. What happened? What did you see? What did you do?
It becomes more difficult and potentially more risky when you are asked for your professional opinion. If you are confident about your viewpoint, no problem. But if, for example, it is a particularly controversial issue, don’t forget that your views will be stored on the internet or enshrined in a cuttings file somewhere and could come back to haunt you.
Remember, if you can help a journalist explain or clarify a complex subject, you are performing a very important role. The rest of us – as readers, listeners or viewers – depend on your knowledge.