UN-sponsored service connects journalists with experts

byبسام سبتي
Jun 19, 2009 in Journalism Basics

Journalists seeking credible experts to answer questions, give interviews or provide facts or quotes may be interested in a free online service of the United Nations' Alliance of Civilizations. Developed in January 2008, and recently revamped and relaunched, the Global Expert Finder (GEF) offers journalists and media professionals a searchable database of commentators, analysts and academics who have expertise in various topics, including politics, law, education, women's rights, human rights, terrorism, globalization, religion, and art. Experts can speak to journalists in multiple languages.

Recently, IJNet sat down with Daanish Masood of the UN Alliance of Civilizations for a conversation about GEF and how journalists can benefit from the service. Highlights follow.

IJNet: What is Global Expert finder?
DM: Global Expert Finder is an online resource of experts and analysts who can provide unique analysis on current affairs, and particularly sensitive cross-cultural issues. The resource offers journalists fast, free and direct access to these experts.

At the core of Global Expert Finder is a database of expert profiles which provide detailed biographies and contact details for more than 100 world-class commentators, analysts and academics. Audio interviews of experts speaking on topical issues are also available, along with a constantly updated directory of recent media appearances and writings by experts.

Global Expert Finder isn't just a Web site, however. In response to major news events or crises, we send media alerts directly to a subscribed list of journalists, containing brief biographies and contact details for experts able to comment on the topic.

What is the goal of GEF?

First and foremost, our goal is to support journalists in their work. Journalists want to produce stories which deal with complex political, cultural and religious issues, and Global Expert Finder was developed as a tool to serve them in this task. Our ultimate goal is to help improve cross-cultural understanding, but this is addressed entirely within the context of serving the media community.

In an age of 24-hour news cycles and declining foreign newsdesk budgets, journalists are facing increasing challenges when it comes to providing comprehensive global coverage. By providing them with easy access to our experts, many of whom are working on the ground in different parts of the world, we can help journalists deliver more stories with more detail about the issues that matter. And that's something we think can play a very positive role in improving relations between different cultures.

Who are your experts; where do they come from?
Our experts come from a tremendous range of backgrounds and countries. The resource is truly global in scope, not only in terms of geographical distribution of our experts but the expertise available to journalists. Commentators listed on GEF have expertise on subjects including politics, law, education, women's rights, human rights, war and conflict, terrorism, globalization, religion, arts and entertainment. Our experts are academics, analysts, pollsters, former political and diplomatic leaders, faith leaders, civil society activists, business leaders and entrepreneurs, filmmakers, authors, and even journalists and commentators themselves.

Right now we have about 120 experts. This figure should rise to around 300 over the next year.

How are experts selected?

Experts are chosen through a rigorous selection process. An expert may be recommended to us through a variety of ways, including self-nomination on the Web site. After receiving a nomination, we look at the professional record, writings and public statements of the expert to ensure that they meet certain criteria. Criteria include having a sustained record of leadership, showing innovation and achievement within their chosen field, being well-regarded by their peers, and perhaps most importantly, generally having a track record of advancing or raising the level of public debate on a particular issue or field.

Global Expert Finder is a wholly impartial resource. We don't vet what our experts say, nor do we seek to manage relations between experts and journalists, except to the extent that we can help in facilitating immediate, direct connections between them. Our experts are world-renowned authorities on their subjects, and our only goal is to ensure that journalists are able to benefit from their tremendous knowledge and experience. In that respect, Global Expert Finder is just one more tool in the inventory of today's journalist - and that's the ultimate benefit.

What languages do experts speak?
Our experts speak a wide range of languages from Chinese to Farsi, Dutch to Malay. Almost all are English-speaking, but most are bilingual or more.

Where do the journalists and the experts interact? Via email or on the GEF Web site?
Journalists can get in touch with experts directly via email addresses listed on the Web site. We also often send out media alerts to journalists on specific subjects or crises, where short biographies and contact details for relevant experts are displayed.

Are previous discussions archived for future use?
We don't currently have a feature on the Web site to display conversations between experts and journalists, but this is going to change in the future. We're looking forward to hosting online webchats with experts, which will then be archived on the site for future use. The ultimate plan is for Global Expert Finder to also be made available in a wider range of languages.

Can you give an example of a discussion topic?
Every day our experts are contacted to speak about a wide range of issues - Barack Obama's foreign policy, the Sri Lankan conflict, terrorism in Pakistan and integration issues in the Netherlands are just some of the recent issues which experts have spoken about with journalists.

How can interested journalists get started on GEF?
Journalists should feel free to visit Global Expert Finder and search the database by area or region of expertise, expert language or location. They can then get in touch with experts of their choice directly. To sign up for our media alerts with expert suggestions for comments on breaking news, journalists should visit the Web site and sign up for our press list by filling in the form.

The Alliance of Civilizations is a project of the UN Secretary-General, launched in 2005. The Alliance was initially co-sponsored by the governments of Spain and Turkey, but today has over 100 supporting countries and international organizations. Its purpose is to reduce cultural tensions that threaten to inflame existing political conflicts or trigger new ones, and the initiative approaches this task by promoting dialogue, policies and projects aimed at improving relations between diverse cultural groups. Projects fall into one of four categories: youth, education, migration and media.

To access GEF, please visit www.globalexpertfinder.org. For more information, contact Daanish Masood at daanishm@unops.org.