As a writer, finding reliable sources for your work is an ongoing task. Whenever you’re completing an article on which you’re not an expert, interviewing a reliable professional will substantiate your work. Moreover, if you cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with certain experts, you can return to them time and time again.
Unfortunately, there’s an over-abundance of fallacy when it comes to online journalism. That issue is often due to writers failing to do their research, and skipping sources altogether. And, if you provide bad information as a result of using a bad “expert,” or no expert at all, you could lose the opportunity to write for a specific publication in the future.
The fast-turnaround approach to digital content also plays a role here as editors want timely pieces at short notice. However, if you want to avoid this problem, getting into the habit of working with solid sources is key. Here’s what you should know.
Use online platforms to reach sources:
Long gone are the days of having to search for specific experts online. Thanks to the popularity of certain online platforms, you can now put a call-out for interviewees, and simply watch your inbox fill up with willing professionals. There are a couple of resources that you need to know about when you’re on the hunt for reliable sources. Help a Reporter Out (or HARO) is one of the simplest platforms to use and, in my experience, you will gain a wealth of responses when you use it. To get started, you need to click ‘I’m a journalist,’ and then submit your inquiry. You should specify whether you are a staff writer or freelance, and which publication you’re currently writing for. The inquiry could take around a day to be pushed out, after which you will start getting replies.
Similarly, ResponseSource has a system where you can reach out to experts in certain fields. Start by clicking ‘Send a Journalist Enquiry,’ and then fill out the form. The information that you give here is virtually the same as you need for HARO. You will need to submit your professional email address, and should start getting replies fast.
Avoid product-pushing sources:
When you use the above resources, there is one pitfall you will come across: product pushers. These are professionals who are trying to get their name in the press to promote a timely product, service, or event. For example, if you’re writing an article about cooking and a chef gets in contact, they may want you to mention their new line of branded skillets. Ultimately, whether you use these sources or not depends on your preference and that of the publication. Keep in mind that some publications will reject articles if the source is too promotional and that may tarnish your reputation. On the other hand, in some cases, a little promotion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Should you find an expert promoting their latest book on the topic of your article, deciding to use them could be a smart move because they are likely a credible expert.
Try university or college portals:
Looking for an academic to comment on a story? Going straight to the source, so to speak, could be the smartest way forward. It’s no secret that universities and colleges want promotion just as much as writers want reliable sources. For that reason, many of the leading institutes will have portals where you can reach out to experts in certain fields.
For instance, Oxford University has a Find an Expert service where you can either fill out a form to find the right academic, or search for them by name. Alternately, Harvard has a Staff Directory where you can quickly and easily get the email address of any given professional. Using these systems means that you can contact experts in academic subjects without having to spend hour-upon-hour digging out their details. These are two examples from leading institutes. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that most educational businesses will have similar systems. If you’ve determined that you need the help of an academic mind, getting in touch with the right professional is simple.
Contact charities and nonprofit organizations:
For an unbiased and expert comment, you might want to reach out to charities and nonprofit organizations. These companies are always eager to get their names in the press, which should mean that you’ll get a fast response from them. Of course, whether you need to speak to a representative from a charity will depend on the article you’re writing.
Reports surrounding mental health, societal issues, and the environment can often be substantiated by charities and nonprofits. For example, if you’re writing about homelessness, you may want to reach out to the Salvation Army press office. What’s more, these types of organizations often produce their own statistics and studies, which you may wish to use to give your story or report further clout. It’s an endless fountain of information. But, be sure to check (and double-check) their credentials.
As a final word of warning, there’s one golden rule that you have to remember: Always check (and then double-check) a source’s credentials. When you’ve reached out to experts using the methods specified here, you should be able to trust them. However, the truth of the matter is that you can never be too thorough when vetting sources.
Before you conduct your interview, take the time to research the source online, and see what information you can find regarding their history. For academics, it’s easy enough to substantiate their qualifications and positions within institutes. If you’re dealing with someone who is an independent expert, you should look for previous articles mentioning them, their LinkedIn page, and any other details you can find about them. In simple terms, the more research you do into your sources, the better.
Charlotte is a freelance writer and content creator. Her work has been seen in Men’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, and Metro UK, among other media outlets. She holds a BA in Journalism and an MA in Creative Writing.
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