Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to be the person the media turns to for general aviation expertise

Today I've been working the story of Northwest Airlines Flight 188, which overshot its intended destination by, oh, 150 miles or so. It seems the pilots were so busy arguing they lost "situational awareness." (Here's my blog post).

Since I was one of the people who jumped on the story first, and thanks to the power of Twitter, I've fielded various calls tonight from news organizations that are looking for some expertise on the subject of the incident and also flying in particular. I'm on tomorrow, for example, in New York.

But it was a phone call from a local TV station that reminded me to remind you about how easy it is to influence the stories about aviation. The producer was calling because she'd read my blog and knows that I have expertise on aviation "and also we hear you're a pilot." She wanted to interview someone.

Now, I know how the game works and when you're really desperate and can't find anyone to talk to you, you talk to a reporter. If they're calling the competition, they must have been really desperate.

I said I'd be glad to help in any way I can and she would check and call back. When she called back "to thank me for being willing to talk to them," I knew what was coming next. They'd decided not to talk to me. I presume someone in the newsroom determined that they hadn't reached that level of desperation yet.

But it was what she said at the end of the conversation that is significant. "If you don't mind, I'm going to go ahead and put your name and number in our list of experts we can call on," she said.

Forehead slap.

Of course. Every newsroom has "the Golden Rolodex," people to talk to in a pinch about the news. You know how you usually see the same people interviewed over and over again? That's the Golden Rolodex and it also reveals how thin that list can be.

Get in the Golden Rolodex under "aviation."

It's not hard to do. At the very least -- and do this right now -- go to the Web site of your favorite local news (or even your least favorite) organizations and find the e-mail address for the newsroom. Then drop them a line and introduce yourself. "I know from time to time you're looking for people with expertise on aviation and I am writing to provide you with information on how you can reach me," might be a good place to start. Provide home and cellphone numbers, addresses, and e-mail, and include a synopsis of your expertise, making sure to note that you'd be deleted to talk to them in advance of breaking news stories about aviation so that they can be comfortable with the level of expertise.

Have a plane? Offer them a ride. Give them a tour of the airport. Let them know a few things about aviation in your community that they didn't know. (Note: Ignore the usual AOPA nonsense about how your local airport generates economic activity. Nobody cares about that and few people believe it). Let them know that you know officials that can help them with their stories, too.

Follow up with a phone call (Don't cold call them with this stuff. They're too busy and newsrooms automatically assume people calling them are crackpots).

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