How to develop sources for business stories

Every city or region in the world, no matter how small, is teeming with interesting business and economic stories that affect the daily lives and pocketbooks of readers and viewers. But where do you find those stories? They can come from just about anywhere. Journalists do not have to be experts in these areas, but by learning the language of each sector, developing sources and following the latest developments, they can produce top-notch stories.

Developing a Source Network

How and where do you meet sources, especially if you’re new to business and economic reporting? What makes a good source? How do you know if a source is reliable? The following tips and potential sources will help you answer these questions.

10 Tips for Developing Sources

  1. Turn every contact for a story into a potential source for future stories. (Follow up afterward, stay in touch, don’t just call when you need information.)
  2. Make the initial contact with a potential source face-to-face.
  3. Comb through other reporters’ stories for names of experts, business people.
  4. Attend industry functions whenever possible.
  5. Cultivate knowledgeable people whom you can consult for background, even if you don’t quote them in stories.
  6. Get ground rules straight with sources. Can you use the information in a story, or is it simply for background?
  7. Trust with sources is needed on both sides. What’s the source’s agenda?
  8. Respect agreements made with sources.
  9. Don’t rely on the same sources over and over; develop new sources on a weekly basis.
  10. Go “high” and “low.” Meet people at the top, but don’t ignore secretaries, clerks and aides.

Potential Sources

Start at the top:

  • Managing directors, owners
  • Lawyers
  • Brokers
  • Accountants
  • Headhunters
  • Financial analysts
  • Labor leaders
  • University professors
  • Politicians
  • Directors of nonprofits
  • Landowners
  • Public relations, marketing and advertising specialists
  • Management consultants
  • Editors of industry publications
  • Economists at banks
  • Directors of trade groups, chambers of commerce

Keep in mind that workers are often as well-informed about what’s going on – sometimes better informed – than the bosses and are often more likely to talk about potential stories.

This post was originally part of an online course by ICFJ Anywhere, which supports journalists worldwide with free training on a range of topics