New Working Paper - Ben O'Loughlin on the role of academics as media 'experts'

Why do academics make contributions to news media, and why do journalists turn to academics in particular moments or contexts? This paper presents findings from a series of interviews and focus groups with academics with experience of offering expertise in ‘security’ matters, and with the journalists and news producers who engage with them. Academics and journalists have competing interests, motives, modes of communication and modes of analysis. Any academic thinking of appearing as an ‘expert’ must be alert to these differences, and to the resulting trade offs and risks. While several academics suggested a concern at being ‘used’ by media, it is argued that there are opportunities and strategies for academics to make a contribution to news media in a positive sum manner, in which neither the news organisation nor the academic feel they have been manipulated. The paper also indicates the diversity of academics’ consideration of their media engagements, particularly concerning their understanding of who they intend to communicate to. It is not clear academics necessarily see themselves as accountable for their media statements, possibly because so much news is seen as mere ‘filling time’. Yet while the journalist may forget, or the interviewer may not even be listening, the academic’s peers, colleagues, and students, may take a keen interest.

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