Thursday, September 28, 2006

Note To Profs: Answer Your Phone

The latest post by Chi-town Trib'ber Eric Zorn has been ringing in my ears ever since I read it. In the post, Zorn reprinted the keynote speech he gave that day to the Media Relations Faculty Recognitions Luncheon at DePaul University. And what did he have to say?

World of academia: answer your phones.

With a wink and a nudge, Zorn explains that when an expert is needed for a story, the door-knocking begins on university campuses. The problem? Slow-footed responses, answering machines, and worst of all, complete inaccessibility in the first place. In Zorn's opinion, the relationship between professors and reporters - many of whom originally considered the former profession, naturally - is a mutual one with "win-win" potential.

When I was a news editor, I often ran into late-night walls while attempting to contact a member of academia after office hours. Even though I had the power to interrupt the university spokesman while he was bathing his own children - really - I couldn't get a single member of a given department on the phone.

Now I understand that reporters should ideally not rush their stories, but the reason I'm calling is because I'm in a fix. I don't want to call you at midnight any more than you want to take the call. But when a student in one of your classes is suddenly and unexpectedly killed, I need someone to talk to beyond his or her family. But that's only 5% of the time.

The other 95% of the time, I need your painfully-specific expertise. You spend all of your time demanding interest from your students. I'm giving it to you for free -- and I'm reprinting it on shiny newsprint. It's free publicity for you, your research and your department. Marion Nestle gets it. Do you?

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