Linda Lowen – Guest Blogger
Maybe you think a media training workshop wouldn’t apply to you. You’re not a big name, or you don’t have a national platform, or you don’t live near a major media market. Perhaps you’ve been on local radio or television and done just fine, and that’s about as far as you see yourself going.
The internet, however, has other plans for you.
Got a website or a blog? Written an article, essay, op-ed based on personal experience or professional knowledge? Provided commentary on a breaking news headline? If so, your expertise is there for the finding on the internet. If a media outlet is searching for an expert on a topic that aligns with anything you’ve written, there’s always the chance that your name will turn up.
And here’s the funny thing: The narrower that niche of expertise, the more likely it’ll happen, because there may be little to no competition.
That’s essentially what happened to me.
For 15 years my career centered around women’s issues. I began with a local radio show in upstate New York in 1998 and ended with a worldwide platform — the New York Times Company-owned website About.com — from 2007-2013. The topic was both my bread and butter and my comfort zone; I enjoyed ongoing media opportunities because of it.
I also happen to be Japanese-American, but never saw myself as an authority on Japanese society and culture. Then, in March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami tore apart Japan.
Media coverage in the U.S. focused heavily on the stoicism of the Japanese and the politeness of those standing in line for food and water. News anchors and pundits expressed constant amazement over this behavior. I felt they were missing the boat. Most reports lacked insight into Japanese culture and demonstrated little understanding of the nation’s values.
I have no academic degrees in Japanese history, economy, or politics, but I know what “being Japanese” means. In the 1950s, my Japanese mother met and married my American father and emigrated to the U.S. Though I was born and raised here, I’d visited Japan and lived within the Japanese-American community long enough to witness the clash of societal norms between the two nations and the frequent misunderstandings.
I chose to write two commentaries for About.com as a private individual, not as an expert. I wrote as a Japanese-American daughter straddling both cultures, shaped by a mother who told me when my behavior was “not Japanese.”
Bolstered by a headline containing the keywords “Japanese stoicism earthquake tsunami,” my first piece went live within 72 hours of the catastrophe and catapulted to the top of Google search results. It was a perfect storm of opportunity: the niche was specific, I put content up quickly, there was little competition, and the topic trended rapidly. Vast numbers of people wanted find out more. This led to a flood of media inquiries, culminating in a talk show interview on WNYC, New York’s leading NPR station, booked within 24 hours.
In the comments section on that webpage, at least one person took issue with my “expertise.” He reprimanded the show for not going with an academic scholar (naming someone from Columbia who happened to be male, happened to be white) who studied Japanese culture.
But that’s the point — a key one I’ve observed from three different sides: as an NPR radio producer/talk show host, a former guest, and a dedicated listener. “Expert” knowledge takes on many forms, and sometimes ‘book learning’ isn’t ideal. Sometimes what’s needed is a guest who’s in the thick of it, or has had lifelong involvement, or can explain both the good and the bad. Other times an academician with a Ph.D. is best. Often, the most “real” answer comes from a real person, and results in a more engaging interview or sound bite. Listeners and viewers want — and respond to — real.
That’s where you come in.
You are that real person. More and more, those of us behind the camera and mic want guests who bring that reality. That honesty. That passion and heartfelt experience.
The internet is where we go to find you. If you have any sort of public profile at all — as a small business owner, a consultant, a coach, a blogger — you’re one search away from being discovered. A reporter, editor, TV or radio producer somewhere in this country or around the world will need your blend of expertise. You are never too small or too obscure to be found. All you need is one news event that aligns with your niche and reveals you in search. When that happens, you’ll be called on to share that expertise.
That’s why media training is for you. Shouldn’t you be ready when they call?