As a freelancer or even a staff writer, finding sources for stories can be a difficult task. Whether you’re looking for an expert on a specific topic or just someone to speak about their experiences, it can be hard to find credible and representative voices for your piece.
Fortunately, finding sources is now easier than ever. With resources like Twitter’s #JournoRequest hashtag, finding the ideal source for your story can be as simple as sending out a tweet.
Individuals typically tweet a specific call for experts or for people with a certain experience. A #JournoRequest might include your deadline, the publication, and how to contact you. It also lets accounts like PR & Journo Requests, Editorielle, and Press Plugs know you need a little help finding sources.
Here are some tricks for using #JournoRequest to find sources.
Let the sources come to you
When you’re in the beginning stages of reporting, #JournoRequest allows potential sources to find you, decide whether they’d like to speak on the topic you’re covering, and reach out themselves.
It’s possible to use Twitter to browse for sources through social listening — or seeing how people are interacting online. For example, if you’re reporting on reactions to a celebrity pregnancy announcement, you can find posts related to that topic and reach out. #JournoRequest is an excellent tool for when you aren’t sure who those sources are or how to reach them.
Freelance journalist Grant Stoner frequently casts out on Twitter in search of sources for stories about the disabled community. “Because disabled people use social media for a lot of social interaction, I rarely struggle to find diverse voices,” he said. “I just pose a question and see who replies.”
Stoner has used Twitter and hashtags like #JournoRequest to source stories for the Washington Post, Wired, Can I Play That, IGN and Fanbyte. “It’s my preferred method when I want to hear from the public,” he said.
He suggests not to shy away from using tools like #JournoRequest even if you’re new to the game or have few followers. “The beauty of social media is that you don't need to have a large following to generate responses,” said Stoner. “All it takes are a few people to share your post, thus opening it to a significantly larger audience.”
Weed through the bots and pitches
Using hashtags on Twitter means you’re also inviting strangers to respond to your tweets. This occasionally means you will get inundated with responses from bots or public relations professionals.
Paul Armstrong, a technology journalist and the founder of the TBD Conference, uses Twitter as a way to find story ideas, leads and sources. He frequently has to wade through unhelpful replies when calling out for sources. “There’s an influx of people who just pitch you something that’s vaguely related, but the spam and archive button are good for that,” said Armstrong.
Twitter’s algorithm does a decent job of automatically hiding bot responses, but it isn’t perfect. It’s important to always vet the sources you find on social media as a result. “Are they verified, do they have a good bio, do they link to official sources, how long have they been tweeting?” said Armstrong, adding that you should treat a Twitter source like you would any other.
Armstrong’s stories, like this one in Forbes, often feature sources found using #JournoRequest. He also uses the tool to find speakers for the TBD Conference. “For me at least, Twitter is a direct comms tool for most people that goes directly to them via notification or email,” he said.
Cate Lawrence, a senior writer at The Next Web’s Shift, has used Twitter to find stories and to deepen her reporting. She makes sure to vet Twitter users by connecting with them on LinkedIn to verify their identities.
“I’ve spoken to people who used to work for companies like Tesla and various startups after following them on Twitter,” said Lawrence. “I put calls out using #JournoRequest as it can sometimes be hard to find commentary or experts quickly in my time zone for a fast-breaking story.”
Seek out sources with diverse points of view
For journalists like Stoner, who work on sensitive topics like accessibility, #JournoRequest can be used to get a pulse on a community’s thoughts or feelings. Amassing tweets reflecting a certain point of view, however, does not mean that they are representative of the entire community.
“A lot of the same people answer [my requests], but I make a point to choose people who have never been in a story before,” he says. “Every person has a story to tell, and if I keep choosing the same people I’m failing to highlight the disabled viewpoint that so many people experience every day.”
According to Armstrong, the best way to get helpful responses from #JournoRequest is to make your request specific, like this:
In addition to #JournoRequest, here are a few other strategies to put out requests on Twitter:
- Use #PRRequest for review requests or company commentary
- Follow @PRJournoRequest on Twitter
- Tag accounts that might be able to help
- Ask for retweets explicitly, especially if you’re looking for sources outside of your general algorithm