Sarah Rainey is a graduate trainee at the Daily Telegraph. She studied Law at Cambridge and recently graduated from an MA in Newspaper Journalism at City University. She has just started a five-month placement as a reporter for the Belfast Telegraph. She tweets as @sarahrainey4 and blogs at http://journapreneur.wordpress.com.
Everybody loves the thrill of the chase. And when it comes to journalism, I don’t reckon it’s any different. For me, one of the most exciting things about being a reporter is finding stories unexpected places and sources in unexpected people. I don’t pretend to be an expert – in fact, I’m probably on the bottom rung of the journalistic ladder, but everything I’ve learnt so far comes from experience, experiments and great teaching. Here are my top tips for finding a news story and chasing up leads:
1) Use the internet to your advantage
It’s easy to think browsing Facebook for missing people or searching Twitter hashtags for breaking news will guarantee results that less web-savvy journalists might miss. But be cleverer than this: set up Google Alerts for topics of interest, use RSS feeds to stay on top of the blogosphere, and search the web for documents and files likely to contain juicy information. Use Boolean operators in search engines, read up on data scraping and store useful pages in Delicious for quick links to what you’ve found. Make screen grabs of anything out of the ordinary – especially useful for deleted tweets and banned websites.
2) Don’t forget about the real world
Journalism is still fundamentally about observation, remembering details and getting to know people. However immaterial it seems at the time, go and meet the 100-year-old woman your Gran always talks about, or the computer nerd your flatmate has befriended – you never know when they might end up being the source you need. If you’ve got a patch, socialise in it; and if you’ve got online contacts (from Twitter or LinkedIn or regular PR emailers), get to know them in real life.
3) Know the news inside out
Whether it’s on TV, news websites, blogs or social networking sites, make sure you know what stage a story is at and where you can take it from there. Follow-up stories can take the form of interviews, next-step pieces or comment – there are always nuggets of information within news articles to spark creativity. Have a highlighter to hand when you read newspapers and start a notebook of ideas.
4) Keep a diary and update it daily
Most news organisations will have central diaries, but keep your own and fill it with anniversaries, one-year-on ideas and suggestions for regional or local takes on national dates and celebrations. Also use it to remind yourself to call contacts on a regular basis – you want to be the first person they’ll come to with a story.
5) Think long-term
Finally, even in today’s fast-paced news world, long-term research can really pay off. Freedom of Information requests, data analysis, investigative research, in-depth interviews with off-the-beaten track sources – they’re all great ways to find exclusives and potentially high-level news. What Do They Know is great for FoI suggestions, while statistics on Data.gov.uk and the Home Office’s RDS site are a goldmine of raw information. Chasing stories this way will require the determination, perseverance and guile of the archetypal Fleet Street hack, and for today’s web 2.0 reporter, you can’t beat it.
Think Sarah has missed anything? Got some tips of your own you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet us at @wannabehacks (hashtag #WHreporting) or comment below the post and we’ll get back to you asap.
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