by Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist
Herd mentality rules from Wall Street to Main Street. Lately, the journo herd has stampeded towards Helpareporter.com (HARO) for news sources. But just because HARO is the herd’s favored watering hole, doesn’t mean it’s the only place you ought to go to drink.
To reach the best sources for your article or book, leverage all the source services to your advantage. Here’s the lay of the land so you can map your own path and thus stand out from the herd:
Pros: Fast responses, quality sources. If your deadline is really tight, Peter and crew are great about Tweeting your source needs to a massive following on Twitter. They also screen members and punish spammers thereby eliminating “junk” and off-point responses to your queries. Reporter query form is streamlined and easy to use.
Cons: Responses are generally strong from PR folks, company owners and technology leaders. Short on big name analyst firms, Fortune 500, political types, celebrities, economic development groups, and scientific and university sources when compared to other services. Also, you run the risk of your story idea being stolen as your query is very public; doubly so when it is tweeted by the crew. However, you are at similar risk when you tweet for sources yourself or use competing services that also use Twitter. Also, historically speaking, prime sources will tip their fav reporters to your story angles on occasion, so this problem is not unique to HARO.
· The Eric Friedeim National Journalism Library – $89 annual fee for just library services; no extra charge for National Press Club members. Owned/operated by the prestigious National Press Club. Probably the BIGGEST best kept secret in the sourcing/research game. Contact Research Librarian is Beth Shankle firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/today
Pros: A professional librarian will research anything for you, and I mean anything. This resource makes any freelancer function with all the strength of a fully staffed newsroom; staff writers suffering from shortages in news rooms will also highly benefit from this service. A research librarian can identify leading sources and contact info; complete publishing history of a subject/industry; deliver stats, numbers of all kinds, clips (video or print) of previous interviews -- in other words comprehensive info you cannot easily, if at all, find anywhere else. Looking for contact info of the big names that shy away from media? The librarian will produce it in minutes. The Library also has full access to resources journos often cannot afford themselves, such as Nexis, the news half of Lexis Nexis. They can also direct you to sources that will give you a heads up on news forecasts (what WILL be news in the future) such as NewsAhead World News Forecast. Reliable research material and source info are handed to you on a platter!
Some research services cost an additional fee. The first 4 research articles are free. After that, it is $2.00 per article. Beth usually does the search and sends a citation list to you. Then, you can respond with which articles you want the full-text for, thus controlling the costs to you. There is an hourly charge for extensive research – such as researching trips to the Library of Congress.
Cons: Other than the fees, not a darn thing. Your queries are confidential and not shared with other journalists. Beth and her team are a godsend, simple as that!
· ProfNet – free to journalists but not to sources. Owned/Operated by PR Newswire. Maria Perez is director of News Operations at ProfNet email@example.com or reach her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/profnet
Pros: Very strong in several source types: colleges and universities, corporations, government agencies, legislative offices, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, hospitals and medical centers, analysts, authors, speakers, consultants, and, of course, PR agencies. One of the benefits for reporters using ProfNet is that they can choose institution type(s) they want to send the query to. If you want to target just colleges and universities, for example, you can. Reporter query forms have been recently streamlined making the service easier to use.
Reporters can also search ProfNet's Experts Database to find experts and communicate with them privately (via their PR representative). This gives reporters yet another option for finding experts, without broadcasting their query to the full e-mail subscriber list. If your deadline is tight, Maria leverages Twitter to speed responses.
Cons: Responses can be slow although ProfNet has made considerable progress with speeding things up. Although there is only so much one can do to spur industry heavyweights and science types. Also, if you ask ProfNet to leverage Twitter to speed responses, you run the same risks you do with HARO on Twitter. Just depends, you want to keep your story idea to yourself, or not?
· Newswise – free to journalists, sources pay a fee. Newswise is great for university and research institution sources (over 500 of them!) for knowledge-based news. It was created in 1991 by Roger Johnson, Ph.D., a biochemist who became a science writer and freelance reporter in the Washington, DC area in 1978. Contact Thom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/newswise or his boss, Newswise President and Founder, Roger Johnson at http://twitter.com/newswiseroger .
Pros: The information found here is extraordinary. Five wires are available: SciNews, MedNews, BizNews, LifeNews, and Daily News. Journalists have access to embargoed news well in advance of release. This is an awesome advantage as it allows you time to thoroughly research a topic and yet publish a comprehensive piece on the actual release date. Offers an extensive contact directory and Find An Expert service to aid you in your own sourcing needs. A good news library and archive service enables you to find plenty of background info on a long list of topics.
Cons: To date, I haven’t found any. The service is limited to serious journalists; it is not sourcing turf for bloggers, citizen journalists or news aggregators (at least in terms of embargoed news and access to true experts in any field). Also, your queries are not shared-- nor visible to-- other journalists.
Why do I share this information with you? Because I believe, heart and soul, in good journalism and I want to do everything I can to see the industry weather and prosper despite the current economic obstacles. Go forth and report – and know that I salute you!