7.1.14

IF YOU WOULD BE A LOCAL MEDIA STAR.

As part of a tribute to his recently deceased colleague Susan Rasky, Brad DeLong reminds readers of their joint advice to economists who take newspaper interviews.  It's useful.  Let me elaborate on a few of the points, as mentorship for younger colleagues, if you wish.
Be especially kind to the uninformed journalist. He gets ten points for calling you in the first place, and with rare exceptions, is almost surely working for editors who know less than he does. Encourage him, help him figure out what he should be asking you, and you’ll be surprised about how much smarter he seems the next time he calls.
Yes, and the subject matter is complicated, and the Popular Perspective is often wrong, and you're speaking for that hypothetical reader with a sixth-grade vocabulary.
Get over your snobbery about local television news. This is a genuine opportunity to reach the public. Learn to use it. Remember that the local TV reporter’s gasoline-price story this evening will be seen by 300,000 people. Your op-ed will be read by 20,000, if you are lucky. Your journal articles will be seriously read by 12.
Indeed. If your job is at an urban university in a state where the flagship university has a more bucolic location, the media people will prefer to make a shorter trip to the nearby campus.  Thus Wayne State beats out Michigan, while Rockford University or Rock Valley College beats out Northern Illinois.  But I did break into the Detroit market with a live interview about, you guessed it, gas prices.
Never say, “on the one hand, on the other hand.” Always say, “I think X because I believe Y is most important; other economists will tell you Z because they think Q is most important. They’re probably wrong because of R.”

Keep your sentences short. This is particularly important on radio and television. But it is wise for print as well. Pith and wit are always desirable. They are especially desirable if you are making fun of how economists talk.
Tough to do both of these things at the same time, and those 300,000 viewers worrying about gas prices aren't terribly interested in the latest pissing contest in the journals.  But at least I got off a memorable quote about how President Reagan, given the choice of incentives to steal license plates or incentives to seek oil, chose the less-bad alternative.  (I was not yet brash enough to suggest that decontrolling crude oil prices in the USA would cause OPEC to crash and burn.  Oh, well.)
Take control of the narrative. For instance, the story is how the oil market works in a time of high demand, not how evil the oil companies are. The oil companies’ degree of evilness has not risen since 1998. But industrializing China now wants to burn a bunch more oil, and two decades of low oil prices have turned the U.S. into a land where Honda civics have been replaced by SUVs.
That explanation incidentally kills pop-psychology legends of suburban machismo.
Be generous to your peers. Reporters have fairly loose criteria for expert comment, especially when they are hunting for quotes on deadline. Answer questions, but tell reporters who would answer them better.
Indeed. Share your cookies. Favors-for-favors are the journalist's stock in trade, and your colleague's name in a reporter's Rolodex (does anybody still keep a Rolodex, or are the expertss all on speed-dial?) can lead to other reporters taking advantage of your expertise.

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