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Friday, April 22, 2016

What About Podcasts? What About Media Consultations? (Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ)

We already covered Twitter and blogging this week, so I thought I'd finish the week with two somewhat related questions: First, what should we make of this emerging trend among law reviews to do podcasts concerning scholarship they publish and other legal issues? And, second, how do media consultations fit into the scholarly agenda, especially pretenure?

When the law journal board here turned over last month, one of the questions they had for me was whether they should start a podcast series on the articles they publish. I was caught off guard as I apparently hadn't been following this development. The editors noted that there is a fair amount of buzz about podcasts among law review editors nationwide. Sure enough, a quick google search reveals that law reviews at AmericanHarvard, LSU, McGill, NorthwesternUCLA, Yale -- to name a few -- have implemented some version of a video or audio podcast.

I confess I haven't given too much thought to the value of podcasts in the scholarly dialogue. To be sure, I have participated in, and have very much enjoyed, teleforums sponsored by the ABA AdLaw Section or the Federalist Society (which I'm told are then turned into podcasts). I'm not sure, however, those are the same thing as law review-sponsored podcasts. I'm skeptical about the enduring value of this law-review innovation, but then I also was skeptical when Apple launched something called the iPad. If others in the PrawfsBlawg community have experimented with law review-sponsored podcasts, I'd love to hear about those experiences in the comments.

So what about media consultations? Our law school's communications team does a great job of directing reporters my way when they have questions related my research and teaching interests. I seldom turn these opportunities down (when they concern topics within my areas of expertise) -- whether that's local TV news, print or online news outlets, or radio appearances. Sometimes these media consultations are fun -- especially the sit-down NPR-styled interviews -- but most of the time I'm just nervous which soundbite or two the reporter is going to use from a ten-minute conversation.

Although I seldom turn these opportunities down, that's not because I think media consultations help me become a voice in my field or otherwise build my scholarly profile. So I think we're straying from the purpose I originally articulated for this Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ series, but would welcome disagreement on that front. Instead, I view media consultation primarily as a means of service to the law school and university (and hopefully the public). At times I also see those activities get incorporated into the classroom if students come across the TV news segment, article, or radio show. 

While we're on the topic of media consultations, I wish I had received more training on how law professors should interact with the media. I've had a number of awkward interactions with reporters since arriving at the law school. The worst, I think, is when I commented at length on a case, and the reporter decided to make the article about me instead of the case with a clickbait headline of "Justice Kennedy's Former Clerk Thinks..." -- not my finest hour. A few tips, based mainly on lessons I've learned the hard way, immediately come to mind:

(1) Reporters Aren't Your Friends: Reporters are really great at getting people to open up by expressing interest in your opinions, but they often have the story already written and are just looking for the quote they want from you. So they will keep you talking until they get that quote, even if it really isn't your main point (or really your position at all). You have to reframe questions, resist narratives, and make clear your positions.

(2) Know the Difference Between On the Record, Off the Record, and On Background: Here is a quick description. Unless I've dealt with the reporter before, I tend to ask that everything is on background until I get a better sense of where the interview is going and then we can decide what is on the record/attributable to me.

(3) You Don't Have To Answer Questions: Especially as a more junior scholar, it's important to stay within one's comfort zone and area of expertise. If reporters ask me to talk about legal or policy areas where I'm less familiar, I either just say I lack the expertise to weigh in and refer them to a colleague. Or I'll explain that I don't feel I have the sufficient expertise to go on the record or background, but that I'd be happy to talk through the issues off the record.

(4) Email Interviews: I've become a bigger fan these days of responding to emails with my take on a case, regulatory development, etc. I then don't have to worry about what could potentially be included in the story or whether my quote is accurate. One related best practice our communication team utilizes is to get a one-paragraph take from the relevant faculty expert to send out to the law school's media contacts. Sometimes the reporters just pull a quote from that release, or they follow up with additional questions but know in advance where the faculty expert is coming from on the issue.

These are just four observations that come immediately to mind. A google search of "tips for talking with reporters" would no doubt produce many more. Definitely share your wisdom and experiences, as I'm guessing I'm not alone in feeling less than fully competent in dealing with the media.



Posted by Chris Walker on April 22, 2016 at 09:03 AM in Jr. Law Prawfs FAQ, Teaching Law | Permalink


Interesting post. If you want an example of a successful (?) subject-specific law prof podcast please check out "The Week in Health Law". TWIHL.com.

Posted by: Nicolas Terry | Apr 24, 2016 8:32:39 PM

I should also note that some scholars are quite good at getting press coverage/interest in their actual research. Allison Orr Larsen's work on amicus briefs comes immediately to mind, as does John Rappaport's current work: https://twitter.com/WilliamBaude/status/716722250037248000

In those circumstances, those media consultations most likely help build their scholarly profile in ways that most media consultations don't.

Posted by: Chris Walker | Apr 22, 2016 3:08:08 PM

Brad's question and Christian's answer reminded me of one of my favorite research assistants who would download old Supreme Court arguments and listen to them on long runs. Podcasts are terrific for long runs, especially if you listen to them faster than real-time speed.

Posted by: Chris Walker | Apr 22, 2016 1:07:31 PM

I too am unsure whether they'll be the next big thing. But that's kind of a function of what we understand to be a big thing in the law review world. My post from a couple of years ago was an attempt to show how the second wave of podcasting was poised to be much, much bigger than the first because of phones, apps, and software quality and cost. Now, I think that's arrived. As the number of shows per potential audience surges, I'm sure we'll see some saturation and contraction. But anything we can do to encourage student engagement with ideas themselves and less invested in the staid form of "The Law Review Article" is a good thing, in my view. This is in addition to the potential for non-journal student organizations to use a new medium to engage in entirely new forms of legal or public service. (Brad: I listen to podcasts when walking to school, walking the dog, doing dishes or other chores, or falling asleep - but generally don't just sit and listen. I also listen at 2x with smart speed on in overcast.)

Posted by: Christian | Apr 22, 2016 12:51:24 PM

I'm curious how other people listen to (scholarly) podcasts. I personally find that they are best, and maybe only, suited for transportation -- mass transit or car. They require too much attention for other multitasking but aren't compelling enough to get me to sit still on the couch and listen when I could for example be reading instead.

Posted by: Brad | Apr 22, 2016 11:51:00 AM


I would also add a couple things from my experience.

1. If you are off-the-record, you should follow-up with an email to the reporter making it very clear that you were off-the-record. This is important if they improperly attribute items to you. If you need to discuss it with their editors, this email becomes important. Thankfully, this has not happened to me, but, was it was good advice I was given by a friend who is a reporter.

2. If you were on the record, ask to see your quote for approval/comment before the article is published. You have a right to make sure the words attributed to you are accurate. Almost every reporter has agreed prior to publication to let me vet my comment for accuracy. They also, generally, allow you to see the context in which it is used. Reporters won't allow you to read the whole story but they should let you see the context.

3. Finally, make sure to get these matters cleared up prior to saying anything. If the reporter is being evasive, you do not have to speak to them.

Posted by: David Herzig | Apr 22, 2016 11:30:10 AM

In which Christian Turner explains why the podcast is then next iPad (and not the next betamax): http://www.hydratext.com/blog/2014/1/11/podcasts

And for the record, I've heard great things about the Oral Argument podcast series, which is hosted by Professors Joe Miller and Christian Turner: http://www.hydratext.com/oralargumentindex/

Still not sure, though, that law review-sponsored podcasts are the next big thing...

Posted by: Chris Walker | Apr 22, 2016 11:14:07 AM

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