Why don’t you use local experts to inform national stories?

Question: I understand that most journalists are generalists not experts. Or at least your proficiency is in making information accessible to the those of us who are neophytes in a particular field. I understand that a newspaper is an costly operation and a regional newspaper cannot have its own staff of specialized writers. As a result, you rely to a large degree on national sources.

Is it possible for you to put together panels of local experts on a topic who could shed light and depth on a continuing issue? A good example of a story that needs expertise is the social security question. In the typical report one hears about a news event or a statement by a news maker like the Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan. Then we hear from Democratic and Republican representatives who are spinning the issue to their advantage. Finally, we hear from a spokesperson for an advocacy organization like the AARP.

Douglas Orr is an economics professor at Eastern Washington University and he has good expertise on the issue of social security. I suggest that you find a couple of other well informed people, invite them to a one-half day discussion, have an intern edit and polish their work product and print their thoughts. This would be an inexpensive way to add depth and hopefully originality to your newspaper. -- Frank A. Malone, Spokane

Answer: As you can see from Bert Caldwell's column in Tuesday’s paper, we did use Doug Orr as an expert on the very story you suggested. In fact, Bert has used Orr in the past as an expert source. We look for local experts often, when appropriate, to comment on global or national issues. And, on occasion, we do convene panels as you suggest. You offer a good reminder to look for local experts. And we could be more diligent in seeking out people with whom we are unfamiliar, who are experts in a particular field. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

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