Shannon Philpott

Writing, Reflecting, Teaching

Story Sources are E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E

One common complaint that I field in my journalism classes is that students have difficulty finding sources for stories. “So-and-so won’t talk to me because I’m not a ‘real’ reporter” or “I sent three e-mails, but I never heard back” is what I typically hear.

My first response: You ARE a real reporter, so act as if.
My second response: Pick up the phone. Don’t rely on e-mail.

The reality is that sources are everywhere. They are hiding in their offices on campus, protesting on downtown streets, voicing their beliefs on Facebook and tweeting their opinions. As a journalist, your task is to find them, track them down and get the interview.

A few places to start:

Directories: Phone books and online directories are vital tools for reporters. Each college campus has a directory of full-time faculty and staff. On a college campus, you have a huge pool of sources to choose from – your professors are experts in their field. Want to interview someone for a story about sex? Go to the Sociology department. Want to interview someone for a piece on psychological disorders? Go to the Psychology department … rinse and repeat.

Social Networking Sites: Facebook, MySpace and Twitter can help you find students at your particular college. Note that it is unethical to quote from a Facebook page, persay, but you can utilize these sites to make an initial contact.

Organizational Web Sites: I always tell my students that a pamphlet from a national agency may help to give you background for a story, but dig deeper. Instead of quoting from the pamphlet, pick up the phone and talk to an expert at the organization.

Books/Publications/Bloggers: A few months ago, I wrote a post about the value of the library. Books are your friend and can lead you to plenty of sources. Pick up a book or browse through some blogs, Google the author, contact the publishing company and it is very likely that you will be talking to the author within days, if not hours.

Reporter Sites: Yes, there are actually sites dedicated to helping reporters find sources. ProfNet is one of my favorites. Simply create an account, send in a request for a source and your deadline, and within minutes, your request is blasted out to experts who have already agreed to be interviewed about their area of specialty. They will then contact YOU.

Please know that I don’t automatically assume that my students are lazy – I know that many of them are not. What I think holds student journalists back from contacting sources, though, is intimidation. They are intimidated by the task of interviewing someone important or newsworthy and most of all, afraid of getting rejected by a source.

My advice? Get over it. Put on your assertive face and contact your sources through every means possible – phone, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If they refuse to do an interview, know that there are other experts who will.

Persistence does work and has worked for me for years as a freelancer. I, too, was intimidated at first and then I realized something very important. Sources are everywhere and they are just as nervous as you are. Go get ‘em. They are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

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– Shannon Philpott
Blog Entry: March 19, 2010

© Shannon Philpott, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Shannon Philpott and shannonphilpott.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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March 19, 2010 - Posted by | Blog, Journalism, Teaching, Writing | , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by shannonphilpott: Story sources are Everywhere http://bit.ly/cKdB69 Advice aimed at student journalists #collegejourn #teaching…

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments | March 21, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] I wrote a post about how Story Sources are Everywhere. I’d like to take that notion one step further and point out that investigative resources are […]

    Pingback by Reporter’s Can’t Be Shy « Shannon Philpott | April 16, 2010 | Reply


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