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Finding sources — fast

Evan Tice

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The Source Sleuth

By Carol Tice

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for new writers is locating really great sources for stories on deadline. I recently had one of my mentees say she was doubtful she could finish a story she’s started this month, because she was having so much trouble finding sources! I think I solved her problem that day.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to develop skills for quickly locating the sources you need. Unless you need a one-armed Burundian camel-driver or something else really out there, you should feel confident that you can find what you need.

I find these days you can often use social media to find sources, even pretty arcane ones. I tweeted a few months back that I needed a small business owner who had applied but been turned down for a particular new type of loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. I got a response within 24 hours, and had a great source.

Aside from asking around within your own networks, tweeting, or doing a good ol’ Google search, the two main Internet tools for searching that I use are ProfNet and HARO, or Help a Reporter Out. I’ll often do an Expert Search on ProfNet to see if I can just turn up a source immediately. If not, I’ll put out a HARO query. One HARO tip — be specific about what you need, or you’ll be inundated with responses!

The most important thing about finding sources is to just be unstoppable. Don’t give up until you have the person you need!

Recently, I had a source-finding crisis. I was on a one-week deadline for a story relating to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I needed to find a small business that had been affected, and had done some disaster planning. I pitched the story in part because one of my expert sources for the story had assured me they had plenty of possible small business owners I could talk to. “You are going to have a GREAT source!” puffed their PR woman.

I did some looking on my own, but I wasn’t too aggressive because this source had been so confident they could refer me. Well, you guessed it, they kept stalling and stalling about handing over their source names. Finally, 24 hours before my deadline, I was emailed their contact names, and whaddaya know, none of them were workable.

So I took a deep breath, and started all over reporting the story. I had a pretty substantial article fee on the line, so I was going to find the source I needed! I started from scratch and thought about resources I hadn’t called yet. Thought about industries likely to have good stories about the impact of the spill on their business. Tried the Louisiana tourism board, they sent me to one local chamber, and in about an hour, I was on the phone with a resort business that had a great story.

It was noon. It took me half a day flat to solve this source problem.

This exercise reminded me of a truism in writing — the work expands to fill all the available time. If there isn’t much time and you’re really motivated, it’s amazing what you can get done. I try to remember this when I have longer deadlines, and still try to not let the work expand to take up more time than it should!

Have any creative source-finding methods I haven’t mentioned that are working for you? Feel free to share them below.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user Tony the Misfit