Finding people to talk to me has always been the hardest part of being a writer. Whether people didn’t want to talk because they didn’t like the publication I was writing for, didn’t trust journalists in general or didn’t feel qualified to discuss the topic I was covering, I feel like I’ve spent half my career trying to convince people to sit down and chat with me, and have only been successful about 30 percent of the time. And if you’re on a beat, you’ve probably had it worse. You end up using the same two sources over and over, and that hardly gives the news the variety it needs. For years now, I’ve compared trying to source a story to being a teenage girl sitting by the phone waiting for a boy to call, but with better pay. And I know I’m not alone.
So, what’s a girl — I mean journalist — to do?
There are so many more options now for finding new voices to add to stories! From finding experts to locals affected by the news to activists and agitators, it’s never been easier to track down a slew of new names to feature.
Run by the Women’s Media Center, SheSource helps journalists connect with women who are experts in a multitude of fields. And with women making up less than a quarter of sources quoted by such prominent outlets as The Atlantic, there is room for more female voices. There are more than 1,300 expert sources in the SheSource database. Each woman has demonstrated expertise on her subjects as well as shown that she has some experience working with the media. The database is searchable by area of expertise, and reporters have the option of reaching out to desired sources through the WMC or contacting the source directly. (Editor’s note: I’ve used SheSource numerous times and have always gotten timely, if not immediate responses going through WMC, from both the WMC contact and the sources themselves.) The WMC also sends out a weekly email with a roundup of five to 10 sources who are available to discuss the week’s biggest stories and upcoming news events.
Help A Reporter Out (HARO)
HARO helps connect writers to sources who want to tell their story or share their insights. The resource is free for journalists, but sources can pay to use the service and up their chances of getting media placement through keyword alerts and early access to reporters’ source requests. The site boasts more than 475,000 sources and says it has been used by more than 35,000 journalists and bloggers to connect to sources, so there’s a wide array of opportunities for both parties. (Editor’s note: I’ve never had luck with HARO when I’ve used it, but colleagues have had luck getting PR pitches from product requests through the site.)
If there’s a subject or region, there’s a think tank that works on the topic. Everyone of course knows about RAND Corp., the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, but there are hundreds more think tanks across the country and around the world. The University of Pennsylvania library system keeps a list of worldwide think tanks available on its website for anyone to access, and it will give you a good idea of what’s out there and how to reach them. You can browse the list by location, areas of research or special achievements (such as top think tanks established in the past 18 months, or those who have done the best media outreach), or by political party affiliation.
Like think tanks, there’s a nonprofit for everything. A simple web search will turn up hundreds of options, but you can use charity watchdog sites to find reputable nonprofits related to your topic. Groups like GuideStar, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, as well as journalism group ProPublica, all rate charities based on their financials and the work they do, and you can use those rankings to find a reputable organization to reach out to for interviews.
Everyone crowdsources online these days, but it can actually be helpful if you’re looking for local voices in an area you don’t live in or need to find an expert who may not be part of a think tank or another sourcing tool. Twitter has a reputation for being full of blowhards and Russian trolls, but if you’re willing to poke around the site, you can find sources for stories who you might not otherwise have access to — and who might not otherwise be able to get their voices heard. (Editor’s note: I’ve used Twitter to source a number of stories and have found dozens of sources, both expert and non, over the years. I even landed a few interviews through MySpace back in the day!) Facebook and LinkedIn are also useful in finding new voices to add to your stories. Facebook provides tips on how to use the site to find sources and story ideas using its many features, while LinkedIn is ideal for finding contacts for business-focused stories.
How are you sourcing stories? We’d love to know what resources you use to add new voices to your news! Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting @EditrixJen. We would also love to hear from you about what other tools or tips or tricks of the trade you’re interested in learning more about in 2018, both on the business and journalism side.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.