Who is that Expert?

No doubt you’ve seen this scenario play out:  You get a call from a local TV reporter, looking for an expert source for a story.  Deadlines are always short and you work hard to set your expert up with the reporter.  The interview airs that night, but lo and behold your exec is identified in the story only as “Local Expert.”  There’s no mention of their name or the company for whom they work.

Another scenario has the expert identified as “Technology Expert.”  Amazingly, there are times when a soundbite runs with absolutely no indication of who the person is at all!

From the TV station’s perspective I’ve heard reporters tell me that they don’t want to give a company “free advertising.”  I know that sometimes the graphics folks don’t have room to put a person’s full name and title into the package.

But think about it from the source’s point of view.  They’ve taken time out their day, perhaps rescheduling work appointments, or perhaps they’ve stayed late after work, missing junior’s T-Ball game.  Seems the least they might expect is for their company’s name to be included in the final story, right?

As a viewer, when the story includes details of the source’s expertise or background it adds context to why their comments are important.  After all, what’s more impressive, a quote from some guy named Jim Clark saying “It’s important for teens to study hard” or a quote from Jim Clark, president of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, making the same comments?

WXIA’s Doug Richards notes:  “I see no reason why TV folk wouldn’t try to fully identify an expert, or anybody else contributing to a story who wants to be ID’d. That “free advertising” line sounds like crap to me.”  He adds:

  • There are technical restrictions. If the soundbite is less than six seconds (or whatever, depending on the station, the director who’s switching the newscast and /or the graphics package) long, we may be unable to flash the graphic without it slopping over into other material in the story. If that’s going to happen, we’re told to skip the graphic identifying the person in that soundbite.  Likewise, there are space restrictions on how many letters we can flash to identify somebody.
  • I find that if I have an issue like that on TV, I can modify the web story to fully ID whomever I’ve inadvertently shortchanged on TV. If somebody has donated a few minutes of their time to help my story, it seems perfectly fair to fully ID them. If by doing so, it gives the expert a promotional bump, I see no harm in that.

Here’s a positive example from WSB-TV, featuring an expert on keeping your furnace going in cold weather: http://www.ajc.com/videos/news/local/atlanta-winter-weather-videos/lCxf/.  They identify the source clearly in this one.

WSB-TV’s Jeff Dore says “At our place, we have a four-second minimum; if the soundbite isn’t at least 4 seconds, we can’t super the name. People not in the biz might think it’s ridiculous to even use soundbites that short, but we do it all the time.”

Dore adds: “… if an expert, or say a business owner, is kind enough to talk with me on camera, I feel it’s just the polite thing to do to say who they are. The needs of the business model sometimes dictate that a story has to cram in a lot of information in a short amount of time, and the only way to shave a few seconds sometimes is to leave a title out of a track. As a good business practice, though, we should always attribute quotes thoroughly.”

Anne Isenhower with Anne Isenhower Communications says: “I know most reporters do try to fully identify an on-air expert, but also know that time and details can get crunched by the time the story airs.  I find it helps to gently ask in an email if the expert can be identified and provide a suggested chyron line, especially for anyone with a long title or long organizational name. So the complete title and complete organizational name might be ideal for the client — but in reality, it will probably come down to being “Name, CEO, Widget Co.,” and that’s just fine.”

(Update 1/22-14) In a somewhat related note, I heard an ABC Radio segment this morning where the reporter talked with a travel blogger about delays at airports around the country. It was a great sound bite, but the person was identified only as “a travel blogger.” No mention of his name or his blog.

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4 Responses to “Who is that Expert?”


  1. 1 live apt fire December 31, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    I’m surprised this is an issue. I see no reason why TV folk wouldn’t try to fully identify an expert, or anybody else contributing to a story who wants to be ID’d. That “free advertising” line sounds like crap to me.

    That said, there are technical restrictions. If the soundbite is less than six seconds (or whatever, depending on the station, the director who’s switching the newscast and /or the graphics package) long, we may be unable to flash the graphic without it slopping over into other material in the story. If that’s going to happen, we’re told to skip the graphic identifying the person in that soundbite.

    Likewise, there are space restrictions on how many letters we can flash to identify somebody.

    I find that if I have an issue like that on TV, I can modify the web story to fully ID whomever I’ve inadvertently shortchanged on TV. If somebody has donated a few minutes of their time to help my story, it seems perfectly fair to fully ID them. If by doing so, it gives the expert a promotional bump, I see no harm in that.

  2. 2 Anne Isenhower January 1, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Good questions from Mitch and good points above from Doug.

    I know most reporters do try to fully identify an on-air expert, but also know that time and details can get crunched by the time the story airs. I find it helps to gently ask in an email if the expert can be identified and provide a suggested chyron line, especially for anyone with a long title or long organizational name. So the complete title and complete organizational name might be ideal for the client — but in reality, it will probably come down to being “Name, CEO, Widget Co.,” and that’s just fine.

    Anne Isenhower, Principal, Anne Isenhower Communications LLC

  3. 3 Nora DePalma January 4, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Excellent, Mitch. Good point about giving a shout out to experts who help with a story. I love the balance of your story, giving both sides of the situation. Very good read for both journalists and PR people.

  4. 4 Lorrie Dixson January 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve been on both sides here (15 years in news production at CNN and 11 years as a owner/publicist/ad agency for Eskimo Advertising). Crediting the expert only helps to complete the story for sure.


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