“Whenever a journalist interviews me about whether a certain practice is morally right or wrong I always feel like I disappoint…”
That’s philosopher Susana Monsó, a post-doctoral fellow at the Messerli Research Institute, on Twitter. Why does she feel this way? Because journalists are “expecting concise and clear-cut answers and my training as an ethicist compels me to deliver anything but.”
Whenever a journalist interviews me about whether a certain practice is morally right or wrong I always feel like I disappoint, because they’re expecting concise and clear-cut answers and my training as an ethicist compels me to deliver anything but. Is this a common problem?
— Dr. Susana Monsó (@Susana_MonsO) March 8, 2021
As she explains in the thread, she sees her role as philosopher as involving more “mapping the complications” than defending a particular position or taking up an activist role.
I think there are a few interesting matters here. One is a metaphilosophical question about what kinds of things philosophy does (or does well). Another is a public-relations question about communicating to the public and the press an accurate understanding of what philosophy is about.
There’s also a question of whether Dr. Monsó is correct about the expectations journalists have when talking with philosophers. Certainly there will be variability across journalists in their knowledge of philosophy and their expectations of philosophers, but is there a sufficiently accurate generalization that’s worth keeping in mind and addressing? Are journalists disappointed when they don’t get “concise and clear-cut answers”? It would be especially helpful if journalists weighed in on this.
And lastly there’s the matter of practical advice. How should philosophers respond to media inquiries? Several years ago, Kevin J. S. Zollman (Carnegie Mellon) wrote on this very topic here at Daily Nous. I recommend people revisit his post, but to summarize it, when philosophers are talking to journalists, he says, they should:
- explain why you’re talking about something so as to motivate continued listening
- tolerate ambiguities, don’t spend much time on definitions
- focus on the core issue, don’t get bogged down in the details
- respond quickly, as journalists work on tight deadlines
- don’t underestimate your own expertise
- stay on topic
- make use of stories
- be proactive in contacting media outlets
- go easy on the jargon
One thing to note about Professor Zollman’s advice is that one can follow it even if what one is doing is offering a complication rather than an answer.
I’m sure others have valuable advice. Please share it in the comments. Thanks.