Over the last several weeks, I received a couple of e-mails from writers who told me they were experts in various parts of the world.
One fancied himself an Asia expert; another, an Israel expert.
The first one really threw me, because I can’t even call myself an expert on the country I’ve spent my entire life in, so how could someone consider himself an expert on nearly 50 countries? I asked how he was an expert and he told me that he had traveled to several Asian countries, one he even returned to for a second time.
The Israel pro explained that she felt a great affinity to Israel because her father was Jewish and she had spent a month there, visiting “every square inch.”
The strong message all over the media front has always been—niche. Get a niche. Become an expert. I’ve even written about it in this column.
But what makes an expert? It’s time to really examine that question if you’re going to present yourself in such a way.
The real experts I’ve met have seriously impressed me. When I ask them a random question, like how many people live in the country? , they can answer it immediately. No…”um, er..I’ll get back to you.” A real expert has layers and layers of experience visiting the country or region they are specializing in. They can tell you where the luxury hotels and main museums are, but they can also tell you about the little neighborhoods no one outside the country has ever heard of. They also know the country in its context, how it fits in and relates to its neighbors.
All of this is important even if you are just writing short touristy articles. You are influencing where people are traveling to and it’s a powerful position.
As much as I’ve been surprised at the self-proclaimed experts who can’t name the prime ministers of the countries they are experts in, I’ve met many writers who have really astounded me with the extensive knowledge they have about an individual country or region.
One writer in particular has really impressed me with her in-depth of knowledge of South Africa. She was an African studies major, she’s been to the country many times, has lived and studied there. She knows the history through and through and how it’s impacting modern day South Africa. Whenever I seriously need to know something, I don’t Google it. I call her. She’s an expert, hands down. She knows the country better than most South Africans.
All of this is to say that it’s fine to call yourself an expert. Just keep in mind that one or two press visits to an area does not an expert make.
To wear that mantle of expertise, you’ve got to dig a whole lot deeper.
Do you focus on a niche? Share your tips for becoming an expert!