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Pressroom Perspectives: Helping journalists with expert comment

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Get a comment. Use a quotation from an expert who discusses the significance of the discovery or the event. From my first days writing broadcast news for a small radio station in upstate New York through a long career as a newspaper science editor in the National Press Building here in Washington, DC, it’s been an axiom. “Get a quote.” A quotation from an expert adds substance and credibility to a story. It advances the story. And if the expert speaks simply and colorfully, he or she brings life to the story and invites the audience to continue reading. A successful quote also helps the reader remember the article.

That need for direct quotations and expert comment is the driving force behind the ACS Office of Public Affairs’ efforts every October to provide journalists with comments on the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announces the prize in Stockholm at 5:45 a.m. Eastern U.S. time. Some journalists, like Karl Ritter and Louise Nordstrom of the Associated Press, must file their stories immediately and need comment on the significance of the research behind the prize as soon as possible. Others have more leisurely deadlines ― maybe a couple of hours.

Touching bases with an expert on such short notice can be difficult. But it is one of the elements of deadline reporting that can be handled in advance. To meet that need for the Nobel science awards, the ACS Office of Public Affairs offers journalists a comment from the Society’s president. ACS is, after all, the world’s largest scientific society, and a comment from its president can enhance a story in all the ways that direct quotations do. We also offer to schedule live telephone interviews with the ACS president, who this year is Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To carry through, our team settles into the office by 5 a.m., monitors the announcement online from Stockholm and puts the comment into a press release that goes to thousands of journalists. The press release also appears online.

We are proud to have helped so many journalists in this way with their coverage of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Our press release was in the email boxes of almost 4,000 journalists around the world within 30 minutes of the announcement and online as well. Shakhashiri did more than a dozen phone interviews with reporters, such as David Brown of The Washington Post; Dan Vergano of USA Today; Eva von Schaper of Bloomberg News; Ken Chang of The New York Times; Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters; Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal; Nell Greenfield Boyce, National Public Radio (NPR);  and  Rachel Ehrenberg, Science News.

The ACS Public Affairs office can help with comments and quotations on other stories, as well. Please let us know when we can help.