Secrets of AirSafe.com:
A How-to Guide on Becoming an Internationally Recognized Expert
Date: 21 July 2008; Length: 9:19
AirSafe.com creator Dr. Todd Curtis talks about how he has been able to get interviewed by major national and international news media organizations, and he describes how he used his experiences, credentials, and published works to attract the attention of producers and editors at newspapers, magazines, and television.
Welcome to the Conversation at AirSafe.com, with your host Dr. Todd Curtis.
This is show #55 - Secrets of AirSafe.com: A How-to Guide on Becoming an Internationally Recognized Expert
It's my belief that everyone can claim to have at least a few experiences or skills that few others can claim. Those skills and experiences would make you an expert compared to most other people. If you want to have your expertise recognized by someone outside your network of friends, family members, and colleagues, then you probably have to first make a goal to become an recognized expert and then take steps to make that goal a reality.
My experience with becoming an expert is that it took several steps, some were very easy, and others were anything but easy. One of the easiest steps, the same step that anyone who wants to be an expert would have to take, is to decide to do so. Like most other things that are worthwhile, recognition is something that must be earned, and without making a conscious decision to do so, it probably won't happen.
Like many other fields, the aviation safety world had many different kinds of experts. Some demonstrated their expertise in published research in industry journals or by presentations at professional conferences. I also saw some of these same experts on television or radio, or quoted by the news media. On the other hand, there were some experts who were featured by the media, but didn't seem to have a significant professional background in the industry. As best as I could figure, they were experts because they said they were experts, and they were on the air or in print because they were willing and available.
Given the two types of experts, those who clearly had either credentials or experience, and those who appeared to have neither, it was clear to me that if I were to be recognized as an expert, I'd want to have the credentials and the experience to back it up.
Almost fifteen years ago, I made a conscious decision to become a recognized aviation safety expert. My plan included several elements that I thought were necessary for a legitimate expert: formal training, relevant experience, and participation in appropriate professional organizations or industry events. In my case, I had three objectives:
1. Work professionally in some area of aviation safety
2. Publish articles or books dealing with one or more aspects of aviation safety or security.
3. Earn a doctorate in a relevant area of aviation safety.
In time, I accomplished all three objectives. I'd worked throughout the 1990s at Boeing as an airline safety analyst and engineer, publishing papers and making presentations at a variety of industry events. I finished my doctorate in early 1999 and had my first book, which was about the analysis of aviation safety data, published the following year.
These credentials were certainly respectable in the eyes of others in my field, as well as in the eyes of reporters and other media professionals. However, it was not enough to get noticed and to get invited for media interviews.
Based on my experience, what it takes to get interviewed as an expert is a combination of being available and being useful. On the availability issue, it doesn't take much of an imagination to realize just how much input is needed by the news media. Take cable television for example. A quarter century ago, there was only a handful of 24-hour news channels. Today, there are literally hundreds of such channels, from international news organizations like CNN to local news channels.
All of these channels, from the largest to the smallest have the same basic problem--every week they have to fill up 10,080 minutes of airtime with some kind of content. Even if you subtract the time spent on commercials and other filler, that still leaves thousands of minutes that need to have something to keep the audience from changing the channel.
For every news oriented broadcast or cable television channel, there are several radio stations that face the same need for content. Thinking even more broadly, there are newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and other traditional publications that are in constant need of new material.
Traditional news media needs a lot of content, but online news and information media needs orders of magnitude more. Traditional media outlets usually have an online operation. There are also many kinds of online media, such as blogs, web sites, and various online communities, that welcome input.
Given all of these opportunities, the only problem with getting media exposure is figuring out where to start. Getting your work or your ideas on the air, in print, or online isn't a problem, but if you want to be recognized as an expert at a national or international level, you can't just settle for any level of the media, you have to aim higher.
One reasonable approach would be to focus on those areas that have the potential for the biggest payback in terms of the size of the audience you could reach, and the likelihood of that exposure leading to other media opportunities.
Over the last decade, I've appeared on major broadcast and cable television news programs on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Fox, and others, have been interviewed on national and international radio news networks such as NPR and BBC, and appeared in numerous local or regional television or radio shows. In addition my work, especially the AirSafe.com web site, has been mentioned or featured numerous times in print, in publications ranging from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal newspapers, to FHM, Time, and PC Magazine.
I certainly didn't have my first experiences on the national and international media stage. I approached the media in the way that a novice would approach a new sport--start by learning the fundamentals, and gain as much practical experience as possible. The goal would be to move to higher and higher levels of competition until you get the opportunity to work in the big leagues.
There are several kinds of fundamental skills that you may need, from writing press releases to contacting reporters or magazine editors. There are many books, web sites, and other resources that can help you, and I won't cover those kinds of basics here. However, before you set out to be an expert on a subject, make sure you cover the basics and make sure you do the best job possible at presenting yourself as an expert.
For example, if you want to send out a press release, make sure it looks like a standard press release. If you are going to be on radio or television, make sure you have something to say and if necessary practice your delivery.
Like I said before, the two keys are being available and being useful. Being useful includes the following:
- Making sure that you know something new, significant, or interesting about the subject of your interview.
- Making it easy for reporters to find out about your areas of expertise, for example, having a web page or blog that describes your expertise
- Focus on helping the interviewer or reporter get the job done
- Take the time to practice what you are going to say
- Be ready to refuse a request or to recommend someone else if you think you can't do a good enough job
Being available includes the following:
- Making it easy for the media to find examples of your work or of past interviews, for example having an online presence such as a blog, web site, or online articles
- Having the flexibility to be available for short notice interviews, and
- Allowing the media to contact you in as many ways as possible
Everything that I've said so far may make sense to you and may be generally true for most who intend to be experts in their field. In addition, I'd like to share a few things that have been true for me.
The most significant action that allowed me to get quoted or interviewed by the media has been my web site AirSafe.com. That was never part of my grand plan. When I started planning the site in 1995, many of the online resources that are common today were in their infancy.
Probably the most important resource, one that continues to evolve, has been search engines. A number of pages from the site rank very highly for common aviation safety related search terms, and many of those pages contain examples of the research I've done over the past two decades.
Another factor that worked in my favor was the availability of other experts. For example, my first exposure on national U.S. media happened in November 1999 when I was contacted by Fox News. They wanted me to give some practical tips for traveling during the Thanksgiving holidays. I had never contacted Fox directly, but by then my site had been mentioned several times by major news media outlets and I suspect that I got that call because some producer needed an expert on short notice, and their usual expert was already on holiday.
I've been interviewed by major news media several times since then, and in most cases, I would get contacted if one or more of the following were true:
- There had been a plane crash or terror event
- Some aviation safety or security policy issue was prominent in the news, or
- It was during the weekend or during a holiday period
At the same time, I haven't stopped doing what I've been doing all along. I still manage AirSafe.com, I regularly publish podcasts episodes on a variety of aviation safety and security related subjects, and am still involved professionally the the aviation safety and security community as an engineer and analyst. For me, becoming a recognized expert in my field was not the ultimate objective, but rather only one factor that allows me to stay in the game.
In the next episode in the Secrets of AirSafe.com series, I'll talk about the key trends in the technology of the Internet and how those trends may lead to radical changes to how I may use the Internet during the next few years.
For more information about this show, and about other AirSafe.com podcasts, please visit secrets.airsafe.org. There you'll find links to related resources, as well as AirSafe.com contact information.
Thanks for listening, and I'll see you next time.
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http://www.airsafe.com/podcasts/show55.htm -- Revised: 21 July 2008