There’s no shortage of romantic behavior in the freelancer’s world. After all, writers are known for our ability to turn a seductive phrase.
However, many of my non-freelance friends are shocked when I tell them I spend only about 30 percent of my time actually writing. Checking in with sources, conducting interviews, and networking takes consistent and significant effort, but it’s time well spent.
Crafting the best pitches and articles hinges on knowing the right people, so writers would be wise to use courting and wooing tactics to build bonds with sources. Here are a few methods I’ve used to find contacts for my work.
Make no mistake, your obligation is always to the publication you are writing for, but giving your sources the exposure and respect they desire does not have to clash with your journalistic standards. Be clear with your sources about how you’ll use the information provided and how they’ll be referenced in your piece.
It’s always a good idea to thank your source in writing—a handwritten note is a nice touch that gets you remembered. Sending a link to your piece when published is also keeps you in good standing. This tactic has paid off for me. While corresponding with one of my sources after a recent piece I wrote for The Business Journals, he shared a great idea with me that was perfect for a separate piece I’m currently writing.
Periodic face-to-face meetings over coffee with local sources invariably leads to story ideas—as does following and interacting with them on social media.
Freelancers who treat their sources like gold are the ones most likely to reap the richest returns.
Successfully transitioning to a new beat is all about credibility. Think of the catch-22 many people encounter when trying to land an entry-level job: Employers want experience, but you can only gain experience if someone hires you.
For journalists looking to write about a new subject, there are a number of online tools they can turn to find qualified sources and establish credibility.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO), an online grandfather in the world of source reporting, boasts nearly 30,000 media members and more than 200,000 expert sources. It’s used by top-tier publications. Their site lists FOX, ABC, AP, Gannet, and Dow Jones as a sampling of news agencies using their service.
It’s also the first source-finder I discovered several years back, and I give it high marks for being free and easy to use.
After a simple registration process, journalists submit queries outlining requirements and their deadline for response. Requests are formatted into categorical listings such as “Business,” “High Tech,””Sports” and “Entertainment.” HARO puts the word out to its network, and people who want to be quoted reply by email.
ProfNet Connect and newcomer SourceSleuth are two similar services, and both are free for journalists. ProfNet allows for greater detail and more precise geographic targeting; SourceSleuth taps experts in the world of blogging, podcasting, and digital expertise.
HARO has the most established track record and seems to have the widest base of sources, so it gets my nod here. But don’t discount the others. I just found a terrific source through SourceSleuth affiliated with HGTV for a 2015 home automation trends piece I’m writing for Ocean Home magazine. The site even facilitated my phone interview and followed up to make sure I got what I needed.
Playing the PR field
When I started covering arts and pop culture for the Charlotte Observer six years ago, one of the first things I did was contact every museum, theater, arts organization, and cultural institution I could think of and asked to be put on their media list.
Usually that just requires a phone call or an email—most internal marketing and PR types are more than accommodating in the hopes of getting coverage.
In addition to receiving advance press releases for upcoming events, I began to establish relationships with communications personnel and artists who in turn became valued sources. This led to “off-list” tips and insider information. When former Xerox executive accomplished entrepreneur and long standing philanthropist Bernard Kinsey brought his storied Kinsey Collection to Charlotte, I was tipped well in advance by my contact at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts & Culture. This led to an exclusive interview, two published pieces to date, and a relationship with Mr. Kinsey I maintain to this day.
Building a solid social media network is another great mine for sources. LinkedIn is especially good for business-related sources.
Cultivating the right PR contacts can also yield dividends. As you develop queries and story ideas, reach out to them to tap into sources that they represent. It’s a win-win, and soon they’ll be coming to you.
Remember, it’s easy to hit the delete key. But infrequent as they’ll be, the hot leads you’ll receive will more than make up for the flurry of emails and the call or two about stories you just “have to cover.”