One of the most vital – and sometimes trickiest – parts of a freelance journalist’s job is finding great sources to interview. Without the structure and connections of an office support staff, it can be even trickier. Here are some tips I’ve found handy in sourcing the right sources for my stories.
Tracking down Mr/s X
You’ve been briefed to interview Miss South Africa/Jacob Zuma/the CEO of a massive company. Now you just have to find them. The best place to start is usually online. If they don’t have a dedicated webpage (and you’ll be surprised how many people do), you can often track them down on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Another avenue that should never be overlooked in this digital age is the phone book. If you’re really too evolved for the paper version, call 1023 or try www.phonebook.yellowpages.co.za (you can search the entire country from these databases).
If these turn up nothing, think of who might know this person, and contact them. For example, if you’re trying to track down a specific actor, call the National Film and Video Foundation. If you’re after a particular politician, call their party’s central office. The South African Sports Confederation may have a lead for a sportsman, and one artist/author/fashion designer may know another who knows another until you find the person you’re looking for. People are usually very happy to help, if they’re only asked.
Finding a professional [fill in the blank]
You need to find a psychologist/wedding planner/quantity surveyor to interview. Start by letting your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages, or try www.yellowpages.co.za (which has a nifty free call service). You can also try searching the web for umbrella organisations that can give you several options such as www.psychologists.co.za.
Think outside the box. If you’re looking for a young, male jewellery designer (and Uncle Google can’t help), call the co-ordinators of local craft markets or the curators of galleries and ask for recommendations. Need a biokineticist? Call gyms in your area and ask who they recommend to members.
Sourcing by topic
You’ve been briefed to write a story about paragliders/divorce/organic food. But you don’t know anyone who paraglides, is divorced or eats organic food. Look for paragliders’ clubs, divorce support groups, and organic produce associations. Or send a shout-out through your social media channels asking if anyone is prepared to be interviewed for those topics.
Another little-used resource is your municipal library. Ask your librarian to point you in the direction of South African books on your given topic, call the publishers to track down the author, and there you have it – a published expert to interview. You could try the same tactic at your local bookshop.
Sometimes you need to find people who have gone through difficult circumstances like disease, mental illness or abuse. Here I find the best route is to go through a mediating expert. Source a doctor, psychologist or social worker who could put you in touch with a case study, and ask them to explain to potential interviewees that sharing their story can help others in similar situations. That way you only deal with individuals who are willing to share their stories, and avoid having to put them in an uncomfortable position by pressing them with unwanted questions.
How to find the man in the street
Some stories call for vox pops, or quotes from regular people on a particular issue. You’ll find that you very quickly use up all your friends and need others to quote. So how do you find the ‘man in the street’? Get out into the street! Load up your clipboard and hit the mall/junction/taxi rank and approach people with a question. Remember to take your media card or some business cards with you to provide legitimization, and to take down each person’s name, surname, age, occupation and comment – and a phone number in case you need to follow up.
Read more of Lauren’s work on www.laurenshapiro.co.za
Lauren Shapiro is a member of the Southern African Freelancers’ Association