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Daniel Fowler, ASA Public Affairs and Public Information Department
In an effort to more efficiently connect journalists with sociologists and to better promote and disseminate sociological scholarship to the public, the American Sociological Association (ASA) is launching a campaign to expand its database of sociologists who are subject matter experts.
“Sociologists have much to offer both members of the media and the public on a wide range of subjects,” said ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman. “As such, we want as many Association members as possible who demonstrated subject matter expertise to register for the database. Having an up-to-date repository of sociologists who have agreed to speak with reporters will improve the ASA’s ability both to respond to media inquiries quickly and to proactively publicize the important work of sociologists.”
According to ASA Executive Office records, this campaign is the first of its kind in the Association’s 107-year history. “Generally, we’ve added members to our database only after we’ve sought them out to put them in touch with an individual reporter for a specific story or to include them in a media advisory,” said Brad Smith, Director of the ASA Public Affairs and Public Information (PA/PI) Department. “Even though they were part of our database, we wouldn’t divulge their contact information for additional future interview opportunities without again getting their approval.”
With ASA’s database expansion campaign, that process will change. Association members can join the ASA Experts Database by going to www.asanet.org/asaexperts. By registering, members agree that PA/PI staff may proactively and reactively make their contact, biographic, and expertise information available to journalists. ASA will mediate these connections, however, and will not make information in the database, which is housed electronically at the Association, publicly available.
“This will make the process of connecting journalists with sociologists much easier for PA/PI staff members because they will know which sociologists are consistently willing to speak to reporters and they will have the go-ahead to give out non-public contact information,” Hillsman said.
During 2011, PA/PI staff oversaw the production and distribution of at least 52 press releases and media advisories and responded to approximately 400 media inquiries. Journalists wanted to interview sociologists about topics ranging from the September 11 anniversary, the sociology of food, and non-traditional families to the health effects of sexual harassment, pets changing family dynamics, and the Occupy movement.
“We hope that expanding the ASA Experts Database will lead to even greater media coverage for our members, their research, and the discipline,” Smith said.
The PA/PI staff initiated an exploratory effort in November to determine whether there was member enthusiasm for a database expansion campaign. As part of the effort, PA/PI staff placed a notice on an ASA section’s listserv explaining the purpose of the database and how to join. Section members were asked to submit via email key professional details including name, title, affiliation, contact information, ASA section membership(s), a brief biography as well as areas of expertise, recent publications, and a link to a professional webpage if available.
“While we were delighted by the number of responses we received, we quickly realized that we could, and should, make joining the database easier before publicizing it to all our members,” Hillsman said. “Through the combined efforts of ASA’s Information Technology and Public Affairs and Public Information departments, we have done that. Now, any ASA member can add his or her information to the experts database by filling out a simple online registration form. That information will immediately be uploaded into the database.”
In late February, PA/PI staff conducted a successful test of the online registration process by inviting members of a second ASA section listserv to sign up. In the coming weeks, PA/PI staff will be reaching out to all ASA sections to invite their members to join the database. PA/PI staff will also recruit ASA members to sign up through promotions on Twitter, Facebook, Member News and Notes, and the ASA homepage.
“The public needs to know what sociologists discover in the course of their research,” said Michael Flaherty, Eckerd College, who recently joined the database. “Our findings are fascinating as well as useful; they should inform public discourse as well as public policy. Moreover, at a time when many states are reducing budgetary support for higher education, it is crucial that we demonstrate the usefulness of the sociological perspective by playing a visible and vital role in the mass media.”