Questions to ask non-profit staff when you’re covering scientific research

August 24, 2016

Journalists talk to a variety of sources about scientific research. Different types of sources have different qualifications and can provide different types of information. Here are some considerations and questions when you are interviewing non-profit representatives about a study you are covering.

For subject matter expertise, ask:

  • Background and training
  • Educational history
  • Depth of knowledge in the field

In the interview, ask:

  • Has the study’s author(s) ever been connected to the organization? (As a board member, member, donations, etc.)
  • How does this study and its findings relate to the mission of your organization?
  • Why does the study matter?
  • If opposed, can you explain what the study got wrong or ignored?
  • If supportive, can you explain the impact of the study on the future?
  • Have interests opposed to the study’s findings ever been connected to the organization? (As board members, members, funders, etc.)
  • Does the organization have any financial connections to study’s researchers, other participating scientists, home organization or the group funding the study? (Check 990s)
  • Does the organization have any financial connections to businesses potentially helped or harmed by the study’s findings? (Check 990s)

Taken from Whose Truth? Tools for Smart Science Journalism in the Digital Age, a self-directed course by Elissa Yancey at Poynter NewsU.

Take the full course

Have you missed a Coffee Break Course? Here’s our complete lineup. And follow along on Twitter at #coffeebreakcourse.