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The best way to use an expert

January 29th, 2005

Dr Petra

I had a call today from a staffer at a women’s magazine. They were a bit hesitant to talk because rather than having a story idea ready for me to comment on, they wanted to run the idea by me first to see if it was a goer.

She need not have worried. This is the kind of thing that we academics and researchers love. We can help much more if we’re consulted when an idea’s being formed, rather than being given a fixed story idea we have to shoehorn ideas and evidence into.

Say, for example, a journalist has to write a piece about the role of diet on people’s sex life (not the topic of the story the staffer called me about by the way). Their editor might say they want to prove that certain foods are good for sex. Traditionally they’ll find some books or news stories about this, and get some experts to confirm or dispute the idea.

But supposing they do it the way this staffer did? They get the idea that diet and sex are linked, and find a few experts that work in the area of nutrition and sexual health. They may tell you the following: some foods are supposedly aphrodisiac; a bad diet can lead to poor health and a bad sex life; and an overall good diet plus exercise can help your sex life. Some might also bring in the idea that using food to spice up sex can be fun, or even suggest some recipes to make with a partner. This moves away from the original idea that a particular foodstuff has a direct effect on sex. But the journalist gets a whole lot more information to bulk up their feature, and some leftovers for future articles.

Plus it leaves journalists with one happy expert. We’re trained to collate and interpret knowledge. It’s part of our job to be able to disseminate evidence. If we feel journalists are interested we’ll even tip you off about new research and ideas to inspire or inform stories. Easier all round than having a fixed idea shaped by an editor that journalists have to scrabble around to stack up.

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