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Rolodex journalism

Posted by ESC on March 06, 2003

In Reply to: It's all true... posted by S. Ryan on March 06, 2003

: : : : : : When the media quotes someone they often introduce the expression with a phrase or two that include the word "expert". I just read something of this sort on [Dr. Somebody, an EXPERT, on Iran at the University says....bla.bla bla..]. How does one come to be designated as an "expert".

: : : : : You get qualified as a pert and then resign.

: : : : It's called Rolodex journalism. If your name is in their card file and you are willing to talk on record, you are an expert. If you can string two sentences together and look good on camera, you're golden.

: : :
: : : I was an Internet "expert" for the BBC. If they'll take a camel, they'll take anyone!

: : And I am sure you were a great expert!

: : Now, be alert! The world is going to need more lerts!


CLAUDE RAINS AS CAPTAIN RENAULT: Major Strasser's been shot. Round up the usual suspects.

BOB GARFIELD: Here's the difference between Captain Renault, Prefect of Casablanca police -- and the media. [EXPECTANT CHORD] [POLICE WHISTLE, POLICE SIREN] Renault -- had a whistle. Otherwise the methodology is pretty much the same -- a story breaks, expert analysis is required, turn to the rolodex and round up "the usual suspects." If it's a legal issue, find Alan Dershowitz. If it's an FBI investigation, call ex-G Man James Kallstrom. Conservative politics --William Kristol. Advertising -- [LAUGHS] -well -- modesty forbids. [CLIP OF INTERVIEW PLAYS] .

ROBERT THOMPSON: Because journalism goes off at the alarmingly quick rate that it does, people do collect rolodexes; they're people they know they can get a hold of on a moment's notice, and I think there, there is this kind of aristocracy of commentators that gets created as a result of it.

NORMAN J. ORNSTEIN: I find now compared to 10, 15, 20 years ago a lot more laziness on the part of reporters --people who turn to the same sources because they pretty much know what they're going to get and there isn't any use in looking around.

BOB GARFIELD: The result, says Professor Thompson, is the usual suspects phenomenon which for all its advantages to reporters and producers can be antithetical to genuine inquiry.

ROBERT THOMPSON: I think the rolodex in the end becomes part of the-- is one of the most important tools in the toolbox of a good journalist. I think what we may be looking for is a need for that rolodex to have a more diverse set of voices within it.

Excerpts from Rolodex Journalism, June 21, 2002, on National Public Radio's "On The Media." Accessed March 6, 2003.