Seek out story sources using these free online tools

Indie journalists using these platforms to find experts, story ideas

Finding quality sources is half the battle for reporters. That’s why free tools are helping independent journalists find and connect with expert sources easier than ever before.

Freelance journalist Lola Méndez started using platforms such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO) while working as a fashion publicist in New York City. Now she uses these sites to gain relevant contacts for her freelance assignments.

Essentially, journalists such as Méndez can submit requests for expert sources, including a deadline, in hopes that someone can help. On a number of these platforms, you can also message sources and their representatives directly.

“I use these tools to streamline my process of finding sources,” Méndez says, “especially for stories that are outside of my personal knowledge, such as when I want to quote a doctor, or a scientist or researcher.”

Méndez built a public Twitter list of the various free sourcing platforms she uses alongside hashtags like #journorequest and #prrequest where similar resources are also shared. Many of the free tools are similar to HARO and Qwoted — a site where I regularly submit source requests — by providing a comprehensive, searchable database of expert sources.

Qwoted co-founder Matt Kneller says the company, founded in 2018, aims to increase transparency and connection between public relations staffers and media while leveling the playing field for independent journalists. It’s all an effort to help support editorial operations, he says, knowing such support can help diversify voices and increase news stories about rarely reported subjects. While reporters may appreciate the free resource, he says it’s news audiences who benefit most. 

“We feel that, firstly, media in general is severely under-resourced and underpaid,” Kneller says. “They do a lot of great work in pointing to stories that need to be told, and most of the folks that reap the benefits sit on the other side of that transaction.”

Qwoted, as well as HARO and the UK’s Find Your Expert, vet users before they can post or submit requests. Kneller says that it’s important to the company to keep the resource free for journalists because of what he and his team see as a fundamental imbalance. That is why PR professionals are asked to pay for certain aspects of the service — though the base page remains free — while access costs nothing for reporters.

“We felt that on that side of the network is where ultimately you should pay,” Kneller says.

Abby Lee Hood, the creator of Southern & Appalachian Co-Op Press, also uses these free sourcing services to grow their network. But they caution journalists to discern whether each source brings the proper credentials and experience. Hood seeks out potential red flags when using these platforms to connect with sources and reminds other reporters to be mindful of source “agendas.” So always consider why someone is willing to speak on record and review their profile for credibility. 

“Usually when sources say something wild or make a bold claim, I ask for some kind of proof,” Hood says. “For a story about a building owner putting a new rule into effect, I asked the resident source to provide a utility bill.”

While these tools come with their own cautionary tales, Méndez says they can also lead to many unexpected stories. The platforms can also support reporters who need sources in communities where they lack connections. For example, Méndez once needed quotes from attendees of a notable polo festival in Pakistan. 

“I thought I was in deep trouble, I did not have connections to Pakistan,” Méndez says. “In using these platforms and my own social media network, I was able to find excellent sources who [not] only attended the event, but I also spoke to former athletes who competed in the event.”

What is your favorite tool to find sources and make your journalistic life easier? Let us know, and we might share your tool with the Indie Publisher newsletter audience next week!

“TLDR” Link List

  1. Help A Reporter Out (HARO): Connects journalists seeking expertise to include in their content
  2. Qwoted: Find ideas, experts, speakers, and guests instantly, all in one place
  3. Find Your Expert: Search the directory for a diverse range of leading experts
  4. InformedOpinions: Amplifies the voices of women and gender-diverse people for a more equitable society

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