Why a TV Producer Created a Database for Finding Subject-Matter Experts


Editor’s Note: This is guest post by Stavros Rougas, a co-founder of Expertise Finder and a former producer at the Toronto-based current affairs program The Agenda with Steve Paikin. I recently heard of Expertise Finder and wanted to learn more about it. I figured that the fastest way to learn about it was to get the founder to explain it to me. To be clear, I’m not endorsing Expertise Finder, and have not been compensated in any way for running this guest post. I just thought it was interesting, and thought some of you might find it interesting as well.

While working as a TV producer here in Toronto I was too often scrambling to find quality experts by deadline. It was frustrating to put less-than-ideal guests on air. I thought there must be a better way. But nothing seemed to beat the power of the Google sledgehammer.

I teamed up with an engineer in Waterloo (Ontario) with a similar passion for knowledge and together we created the tool I wished for as a journalist.

What Is Expertise Finder

Expertise Finder is a search engine for journalists to find vetted experts. All 25,000 experts are academics. They include thousands of scientists.

Who Is Using Expertise Finder

Journalists from major outlets like the NY Times to niche science blogs.

Why We Created Expertise Finder

Stavros Rougas
Stavros Rougas

The web is still in its infancy. Its promise is to allow us to better find and share knowledge to benefit humanity. We need web-centric thinking to help drive this change.

My so called eureka moment came in 2010 when I read that the cost of Amazon’s cloud computing (AWS) was predicted to rapidly drop. I realized that here’s my chance. I then started networking with my idea in the startup world and hit it off with an engineer named Ebrahim. We talked about history and politics then agreed to meet later to talk about what I was thinking about.

I worked in international development in the former Soviet Union. All final project reports claimed success, but it was often an open question as to the longer term impact and whether they were a good use of resources.

My take away from this experience is that sustainable progress takes time, it’s an ongoing process. Non-profit/NGO work is mainly on a short term project basis with the hope of renewal. This may be the only viable way for a non-profit/NGO to fund projects.

Expertise Finder is not supported by grant money. Expertise Finder is a for profit enterprise. We believe this to be a better way to support journalism in the long term. Too often when the grant runs out a project dies, not to mention the time and energy needed to apply for grants and produce reports for successful ones.

How Expertise Finder Works: An Example

Canadian Arthur McDonald wins a Nobel Prize for the discovery that subatomic particles called neutrinos have mass. All of a sudden journalists, starting with science writers, across Canada want to speak with specialists in neutrinos.

Step 1: Search “neutrinos” @ expertisefinder.com

Step 2: 12 Results

If there are a large number of results you can sort by region or you can click on any of the areas of expertise (blue hyperlinks) to try a different search.

Step 3: View Profile and Contact Expert

Total time: 10 seconds

In this case interviewing a Canadian makes sense as the story is about a Canadian scientist. Professors from colleges including MIT and CalTech are also available.

Why We Focus on Academics

Academics are able to speak openly and have depth of knowledge. These are two requirements for a journalist creating quality content. It’s harder to find both in the private sector.

Plus on a practical level academics don’t change places of work often so it is easier to keep the data up to date.

How We Make Money

We sell software. Organizations, mainly universities, use our cloud-based software to power their own expert directories. Here is a client’s directory: Ryerson University.

Experts and institutions can sign up for free. There is no way to buy a core listing. Premium features are optional but do not help to rank higher. No advertising on the site.

Our search engine is agnostic. It is built to highlight relevant expertise.

How We Select Experts

We vet all profiles before they are searchable. An expert must be affiliated with an accredited university, four year college or reputable think tank. No exceptions.

We are telling journalists – you don’t need to trust us (much). Judge a Harvard professor versus one from a small liberal arts college for yourself.

What We Don’t Do

Being a ‘good talker’ is the other important aspect for a journalist. But we have avoided subjective measures to focus on quickly finding people with specific expertise. This is the core problem and hard enough in itself.

We allow experts to add media experience to their profile.

Nobody can pay to be listed or rank higher.

Video: Why Journalists Use Expertise Finder

Here is a short video (1:30) that outlines the struggle to find experts and why journalists turn to Expertise Finder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uw2id9NkB4

How to Contact Me

Feedback and suggestions appreciated:

Stavros Rougas





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