How Do Journalists Find Stories?

PR Outreach Tips

When writing an article, good stories and reliable sources are crucial. They make your content compelling, authoritative, and trustworthy. Traditionally, journalists find stories and sources by getting first-hand information, building relationships with PR companies, searching for people and companies, and investigating in person. There were no platforms like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), Qwoted, or ProfNet.

In this digital age, many journalists have turned online. Brands ramping up their content marketing efforts can learn a lot from how journalists generate story ideas and find sources. 

How do journalists find stories and sources on the internet? Here are a few ways:

They Use HARO

You can find online platforms today that connect journalists with expert sources. One example is HARO, which aptly stands for Help a Reporter Out.

How can we help reporters? Journalists post questions on HARO. When the queries are approved by the HARO team, experts from related niches or industries send their pitches or answers to the journalists.

You can choose from those pitches the expert insights you want to quote, which add credibility, substance, and authority to your articles.

In responding to HARO requests, the experts you quoted get to tell their brand stories and boost their link-building efforts when you give credits to their contributions.

If you’re a brand or public relations (PR) professional, you can also sign up with HARO and look for relevant queries where you can contribute.

It’s an efficient tool you can use for content marketing and quality link building.

With online sourcing services like HARO, journalists save time from looking for subject matter experts and focus on writing more.

Meanwhile, brands save time from searching for journalists or publications to get valuable media coverage and focus more on other business matters.

Other help a reporter out alternatives you can check out include Qwoted, Expertise Finder, ProfNet, NewsBasis, and They work similarly to HARO in connecting journalists and expert sources.

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How to send or answer a HARO query?

How HARO works is that journalists post their queries on HARO with the description of the topic they’re working on. You can post a few questions that you want specific answers to from expert sources.

You can also indicate the requirements for a source to be qualified as an expert. Say you’re working on a home improvement article, you can indicate that you only want responses from home renovation experts, interior designers, or real estate professionals.

Expert sources can answer HARO queries that are relevant to their profession, business, position in the company, and niche.

It’s typically better to keep your pitches short and straight forward. Give exactly what the journalist is looking for in your HARO response.

As a brand pitching your insights, you must understand that journalists are busy people too, and they receive tons of responses to their queries.

Optimize your subject line and try to provide unique value in your pitches so they will stand out and have more chances of getting picked. Your pitches should also be not promotional.

Additionally, don’t forget to indicate your contact details, including your company name, website, and a link to your LinkedIn profile. Some journalists would want to contact you for follow-up questions or the next step to take.

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How to find a media outlet or relevant journalists on HARO?

HARO sends out newsletters three times a day containing queries from journalists. Queries in HARO emails are segmented into different categories: general, business and finance, biotech and healthcare, education, high tech, lifestyle and fitness, entertainment and media, travel, energy and green tech, public policy and government, and sports.

You can browse the newsletters based on the category that’s relevant to your brand and expertise.

Most queries also contain the name of the media outlets where the journalist will publish the article. You can select those publications that are well-established and credible or have high traffic and high domain authority.

Journalists have particular beats they cover. When you have success getting media coverage with relevant journalists, it’s good to keep a relationship with them.

You may receive queries directly from the journalists and have better chances of being an expert source again in their upcoming stories.

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Is Help a Reporter Out free?

Journalists and sources can create a HARO account for free and stick with the basic plan. But if you need more features, HARO has three other paid plans that cost $19, $49, and $149 per month.

With the free plan, you receive the three newsletters per day straight in your inbox and contact email support if you need help.

You’ll have to browse through dozens of requests, most of which would be irrelevant to your brand or niches. But over time, you can develop a strategy or best practice, so you can easily find what’s relevant to you.

If you subscribe to a Standard plan that costs $19 per month, you can receive keyword alerts. This will help you keep posted with the relevant queries you can contribute to and save time from having to sift through irrelevant queries.

The Advanced plan, which costs $49 a month, will have more keywords. You can also create up to three profiles and see the new queries before users of basic and standard plans see them. That gives you an advantage when you pitch earlier than them.

Most journalists don’t wait for the deadline of their queries if they have already received enough quotes to work on for their content.

So, the sooner you pitch when the query comes in, the more likely you get media coverage.

For $149 a month in the Premium subscription, you get unlimited keywords and profiles. This is ideal for larger companies who need different profiles for each staff that works on their content marketing, link building, SEO, and so on. Plus, you get access to phone support.

haro query

They Post on Social Media Platforms

A survey among journalists revealed that 78% find their stories using social media platforms, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

How do journalists find stories through these? You can look at the latest trending topics among social media users.

You can also post a question on your status update and ask for recommendations from your followers.

For example, if you want to use case studies on how small businesses are coping with the pandemic, you can ask: “Hey, friends! Is anyone here a small business owner? I’m writing an article about how the pandemic has impacted SMEs and what are their coping strategies. I’d love to hear your stories.”

You can also join social media groups and follow official pages. Hang out and engage with the community, and you’re likely to get topic ideas and potential sources.

Using social media platforms can help you create original content rather than relying solely on existing information published online. Story finding through your network is a good starting point for your writing process.

For brands, social media is a good place to look into if you need topics for your content marketing.

If you have a community or a social media page, asking your audience will give you better ideas of what they truly need.

In turn, you can create content that will provide value to them and boost your authority and expertise in your field.

haro emails

They Use Search Engines & Blogs

Previous surveys also indicated search engines and blogs as top sources for story finding. Around 91% use Google and the like and 89% use blogs for idea generation and expert sources.

You can check Google Trends to see the latest topics people search and talk about online. You can also stay on top of your beat by setting up Google Alerts. Set a keyword that you want to receive updates on via a Google alert.

Meanwhile, reading what established bloggers write can help you when you’re looking for relevant topics.

How do journalists find sources through search engines and blogs? For instance, if you’re looking for sources on personal finance in New York City, you can type in “New York City personal finance expert.”

The search results will give you a list of recommended experts in the area. Then you can reach out to them for possible interviews.

Brands can also use search engines and blogs to find relevant publications that would be willing to publish their press release or tell their stories on their site.

When you search for a keyword that’s relevant to your brand, you’ll see the top search results and check the publications that cover your niche.

Although, this is a longer process of PR outreach compared to using online sourcing platforms like HARO with a database of journalists and media outlets.

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They Look Into Online Forums & Communities

Some journalists also use forums and online communities to get story ideas.

For instance, you can check Reddit and see what people are discussing. You can scroll down through comments or subreddits and find questions that you can answer through your content.

This method can help you create unique topic ideas for your content. You see the topics that people are interested in, and when you put together the information and content in your articles, you create a piece that’s actually valuable to readers.

You can also post questions on online communities for things that you’re naturally curious about and want experts to answer.

Do additional info gathering and put together all the details. Then, you can share what you found out through your articles.

They Find Info from Official Websites

Real figures and statistics add substance and value to content. How do journalists find sources of reliable numbers? Official websites.

You can start with government agencies, like the US Census Bureau website.

You can also look into published academic research, reports from charities and support groups, and pollsters, such as Gallup Poll, Pew Research Center, Nielsen Ratings, and YouGov.

If you’re a brand and you have research, statistics, or data, you can share them with journalists.

When you respond to HARO queries, for example, you can share marketing data, a complete guide about a certain topic, and other figures that they may find valuable and useful in their articles.


They Read Published Articles From Other Media Outlets

If you need more information about a topic you’re working on, reading other published content can help you get more ideas. Some journalists also track their original sources and interview them.

However, be careful about using all of their sources or rip-off their original content by getting direct quotes from these published articles. You must use them as inspiration only in creating your own article.

Reading published pieces from other media outlets will also give you an idea of what competing articles are already up and how you can have an edge over them for SEO (search engine optimization).


Wrapping Up

The internet offers vast opportunities for journalists to find story ideas and expert sources. Going digital has made it easier compared to traditional means that require actual footwork. However, you need to ensure that you still follow ethical practices and you verify the information you get.

HARO has been a popular online sourcing platform for connecting journalists and sources. It cuts half the time you would otherwise spend looking for industry or niche experts.

For brands that do their content marketing in-house, these strategies are quite useful as well. You get ideas for unique content and how to make them compelling enough for your target audience through social media, search engines, forums, official websites, online sourcing services, and other published content.

 HARO is a good place to start your link-building efforts too. You save time from looking for relevant journalists and gathering their contact details. You can find a report much easier and when your HARO pitch is selected, you get valuable media coverage for your brand.

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