Tools for Finding Sources

Being a journalist means you have to find people in unconventional ways. Depending on your location, it can be difficult to find the right people for your story. Location can definitely limit the kinds of stories a journalist can write. Living in Des Moines, Iowa, writing about music and fashion, for example, are rather challenging. Phone calls and emails don’t always cut it if you want a story with some real imagery and credibility. Luckily, there are several sites just for journalists that help us find sources without leaving the couch.

Photo by: Leah Hurt

The first thing to do is simply search the person on your preferred search engine. I use Google, but any search engine works. This helps you find a place to start and may lead you to the source’s personal website or other information published about him or her. Sometimes, if you get lucky, this is all you need to do to find your source.

If you can’t gather enough information from a search engine, try social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn. More than likely if it is a person of public importance, he or she will have a profile on at least one of these sites. If you’re looking for a band or band member, Myspace might also be helpful.

ProfNet is a website by PR Newswire specifically created to help journalists find sources by connecting them with business professionals. All you have to do is submit a query and let the emails come to you. You can even filter your queries by geographical location and institution type to help you reach the right people. The best part? It’s free to use! You can get more information about ProfNet from an earlier post here.

The Journalist’s Toolbox, by the Society of Professional Journalists, provides a list of dozens of great places to find sources and resources too.

Another way to search for sources is to check archives of newspapers, magazines  or television programs online or from your source’s location if you want to search through the print editions. If she’s a fashion designer in New York, she has probably been featured in a story or two from Elle Magazine. If he’s a college basketball player from Kentucky, he may have been mentioned on ESPN or Sports Illustrated magazine if he is really the bees knees. Even less public figures can be found this way by searching indirectly for people with connections to the person you are looking for.

“Cyber stalking” (meant as a joke) can be an effective way to find sources that you had no idea even existed. There is enough information out there to find virtually anyone if you search hard enough and pool your resources. All you really need is a name and you can find anyone you want.

How does this make you feel as a journalist? Yes it makes finding sources easier, but what about privacy? Do you think it is a positive thing that we can reach other people so easily?

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5 responses to “Tools for Finding Sources

  1. Very interesting and helpful post! I especially like the info you shared about PR Newswire, I will definitely have to check that out and use that as a resource.

    I think that finding sources easily is both good and bad. Good, in the sense that it makes our jobs as journalists much easier, and we produce a better piece. Bad, in the sense of the source. I think sometimes it could be unprofessional to contact someone via social media. That may be their one platform where they can get away from work, and they have people contacting them about what they do. I think it is important to find the balance of when and were to contact sources, and I think you need to be very careful when people start to look towards social media.

  2. Thanks Cecily, I see what you are saying about privacy, but sometimes social media is actually the only way to find someone! I was looking for information about an author of a book the other day, and I found his email address on his facebook page. He is literally non-existant anywhere else. It was a difficult line to cross because I knew that his facebook was supposed to be for his personal connections only, but his email was available to the general public. If someone doesn’t put stricter privacy settings on his or her social media profile, does that mean that information is free game?

  3. I’ve never heard of ProfNet but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for upcoming projects! As far as your above response, I’d say the authors info is free game. If someone puts their email address online, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to use it to reach out to them. Also, if you’re using them as a source for something than it’s likely that it’s publicity for them, something I’m guessing any author would love. Even though it feels creepy, I agree with using non-traditional ways to reach out to people.

  4. This is a very helpful set of resources. I haven’t heard of ProfNet either, but it sounds like a good way to get some background information for a story.

    You make an interesting point about privacy. It’s hard to keep information from the general public in this day. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but it’s just the way it is. People need to keep track of what information is available about them. The Internet helps journalists a great deal, but I sometimes don’t know if it’s worth the lack of privacy. A good journalist would always find the story. Now, many stories are just there for the taking.

  5. Kenzie, I agree if someone puts their information online for the public to see, it seems like that info is there for the taking. Jeff, I also agree that sacrificing privacy of a source for a story is questionable, but if the source knowingly puts his or her info on the Internet, I think we journalists are free to use it.

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