By Khadeeja Safdar
Columbia Journalism School C’13
Building sources on any beat can take a long time, but when news breaks, you need them immediately. For new reporters – or reporters new to a beat – finding trusted sources quickly can be challenging. However, social networks and other online resources are putting journalists in touch with the people they need faster than ever before.
Social media has made it easier for new reporters and freelancers to connect with new sources almost immediately. News websites, discussion boards and question-and-answer forums have made it possible to find sources with material information and fresh opinions about a variety of issues.
Below are five resources with some hacks and tips to help journalists crowdsource their reporting.
Quora is a question-and-answer website that allows users to ask and answer questions in an open forum, as well as send private messages to individual users. Journalists can search for questions by topic and then send private messages requesting interviews with users whose prior answers suggest they know what they’re talking about.
Reporters covering innovation will find the site especially useful. Quora’s users include a lot of Internet entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts. Business executives like Yelp Chief Executive Jeremy Stoppelman and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales are active on the site. Many of the users are there because they enjoy answering questions.
Complaints Board is a web forum where consumers air their grievances against individuals or businesses. These reports are largely uninvestigated and unconfirmed, but journalists can use the site as a jumping off point to locate and question potential victims of business scams about their experiences.
Unlike some other consumer advocacy forums, Complaints Board requires consumers to register with user profiles using their name (sometimes an alias) and location. Journalists can register their own profile and message users directly. Like Quora, one of the benefits of Complaints Board is its self-selecting user base of people who want to share their experiences.
Reddit is a content-sharing website that organizes user submissions into categories. The site has a search bar that allows journalists to look for content based on keywords and then connect with the users who made submissions. An investor in Apple, for example, may describe the logic behind his investment. Reddit users sometimes use fake names in their profiles, but the site has a direct messaging option like Quora.
Reddit has a helpful topic category called “IAmA,” in which people describe themselves (“I am a banker”) and offer up their expertise with the phrase “AMA” (“ask me anything”). Journalists can message users privately or participate in public conversations with other Reddit users. Prominent figures such as President Barack Obama and Bill Gates have appeared on Reddit AMAs.
LinkedIn is a social networking site for professionals, which allows registered users to display their job profiles, as well as connect with and message other users. The site offers an advanced search function that can find the names of current or past employees of particular companies. Employees no longer with a company are often in a better position to disclose sensitive information.
To search LinkedIn’s database by former employers, users have to buy a premium subscription to the service. The website offers journalists a one-year premium subscription for free. They must join the LinkedIn for Journalists group and watch for postings in the discussion about the next conference call to learn about the site’s features. Participation in this conference call is a prerequisite to receiving the offer.
Comments sections on major news sites
Many journalists who publish on the websites of major news organizations don’t make time to read the comments section on even their own stories, but combing through the reader comments can steer those journalists toward sources for follow-up stories. Readers often vent about their own experiences in the comments section, sometimes revealing that they have a unique perspective on a particular topic or close ties to a certain person.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify the commenter. Most news sites require users to login with their email and provide a name to leave comments, and only journalists who work at the site have access to a commenter’s email address. In addition, commenters sometimes use aliases instead of their real names to log in. Journalists can work around with these hurdles by logging into a news website and leaving a reply to a comment, in which they identify themselves and ask to continue the conversation elsewhere.