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September 27, 2021 (Updated )
Finding the most suitable person to centre your articles on is like adding in a secret ingredient to your dish – it pulls the whole thing together. But finding relevant case studies can be quite a feat – you have to make sure they’re the most relevant person, that they’re offering insightful comments, and, most importantly, that they’re available.
During the pandemic, face-to-face meetings – where you can develop a rapport and feed off interviewees answers and energy – have not been a possibility, leaving only virtual options. Journalists have had to find creative new ways to interview sources including Zoom, voice notes, DMs, emails, and texts. But how do you go about finding the right people in the first place?
Using Social Media, From Reddit To Facebook Groups
As a reporter who has worked for various national outlets, I had my usual go-to places for case studies including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Meanwhile, my emails were also an archive of contacts willing to chat to me. The more I reached out to people and the more I wrote, I started developing a diverse contact book that I could come back to – remember you can also use the same experts for more than one piece, or ask them to put you in touch with the relevant people.
But, ultimately, you still need to know where to start. It can be tempting to just put a #JournoRequest call out on Twitter, but you’ll often find better results by finding people yourself, rather than just letting the same people come to you.
“I generally think that if you’re trying to look for really high quality case studies, really original stuff, it’s not the best place to find them,” agrees Sophie Gallagher, an award-winning freelance journalist speaking at a Journo Resources masterclass. “You just get a load of journalists, who are also just sat on Twitter, replying to you. It’s self selecting, it’s people coming to you.”
Instead, Sophie says her trick is to use Twitter Advanced Search, a set of filters that allow you filter tweets by location, keywords, and dates. You can also use TweetDeck (a free online dashboard by Twitter itself) to set up columns to monitor certain searches. “People are so frequently really pleased, that this message they’ve been putting into the universe, someone has got back to them.”
"People are so frequently really pleased, that this message they've been putting into the universe, someone has got back to them."
As well as the most popular social media platforms, I also use Reddit to find more niche groups. For example, when I did a series on incels, Reddit was an apt place to find such subcultures. You can follow all the subreddits you like – and provided you’re not breaking any admin rules – you can reach out to suitable people via this medium.
“There are literally millions of people on there talking about millions of things,” agrees Amelia Tait, who covers cultures, trends, and the internet. “From one in a million rare diseases, to people making their own languages, to really intense fandoms.”
“Anything you’re writing a story about, you can find a case study on Reddit who is already talking about this issue organically. People on Reddit are surprisingly open to talking about their experiences, because they’re already there looking to have a conversation.”
Amelia suggests using a Google Site Search rather than using Reddit’s own tools to find relevant communities, as the social media company’s results are often poor. She also recommends using language specific to a certain region to help find UK case studies in a global subreddit. For example, searching for the word “mum” or “colour” is likely to show up less people based in the US.
She also recommends reaching out personally, rather than just posting a message or messaging the moderators as a whole. Don’t be surprised if a Redditor also wants to check who you are too. Thanks to the anonymous nature of the site, you may need to gain people’s trust.
“You can say here’s a similar article I wrote, here’s my tone, my style my approach. Verifying you are who you say you are, if you’re verified on Twitter, send them a message, or from the email address that’s on your website. It’s all about treating people as people.”
How To Make Expert Sources Come To You Instantly
Finding case studies is one thing, but what about the experts you need to help put the story into context? We’re delighted to have partnered with ResponseSource as our 2021 sponsor, who have the perfect tool to help bring experts to you instantly. No, really.
The Journalist Enquiry Service is completely free to use, and allows you send a request to hundreds of relevant experts, charities, and PRs. You’ll be able to detail exactly what you want, how you’d like to hear back from them, and your deadline.
A spokesperson for the service tells Journo Resources: “More than 30,000 journalists and broadcasters use ResponseSource and our Journalist Enquiry Service to secure essential insight, information and connections from a selected range of trusted and reliable contacts.
“It puts you in touch with experts, case studies and PR contacts from all sectors, saves you hours of research and helps you meet your deadlines.”
I am also part of several Facebook groups of various persuasions – ranging from weddings to cats, families to budgeting. Honestly, there’s a Facebook group for everything.
Even if you’re not actively looking for a case study, they’re a great place to hang out which have helped me come up with story ideas and find the right person to speak to. If you join and are requesting comment, just make sure you’re being very upfront about what you need and what you’re planning to do with the information.
Dr Lily Canter, a money and health journalist who also co-founded Freelancing For Journalists, says there’s no one set way to find a case study. “If it’s a consumer story and it’s around fuel and energy, then I will probably go and find niche Facebook groups. So that’s normally a starting point. If I’m looking for something very specific, I might go on a forum like Money Saving Expert, I can find people that are already having those conversations about the issues I’m writing about.”
Looking For Case Studies Beyond Social Media
Social media platforms can be a great tool for journalists, but there are other platforms, both on and offline that can be just as useful for journalists.
“I always find my case studies though researching lots,” she tells Journo Resources. “The example that I can think of was last year when I wrote a piece for The Guardian, about a Filipino nurse who died of suspected Coronavirus whose body couldn’t be found. His niece was trying to locate the body, and I found her on GoFundMe. The only reason I found out about what happened with her, and then pitched the story and got it commissioned, was because I reached out to her and had seen that she was trying to raise funds.”
Aina J Khan (L) and Lily Canter (R)
“I think there’s an ethical kind of question here as well, because in case studies like these, they’re really traumatic, they’re really heartbreaking circumstances. So I didn’t necessarily start out as ‘let me find the most disgusting or the most traumatic thing’. No, it just comes up through conversations through people that I’m talking to, researching plenty, and it just goes from one thing to another. A good habit to find strong case studies is just picking up the phone and talking to people that you’ve worked with.”
“I knew another friend who works for the British Islamic Medical Association, I reached out to him and was like, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ And one thing led to another. He knew one of the doctors who passed away and confirmed he was Muslim. Then I reached out to other people through social media to confirm the background of the doctors. Social media is actually really useful. I found the story because I saw that as kind of a gateway into actually going and exploring more. It’s definitely something I should do more of, because that’s how you get your stories.”
As a new journalist, it can feel intimidating to just start reaching out to people. But, as Lily advises, practice is the only way: “It can be a little bit daunting, the idea of reaching out to people that you don’t know. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And reaching out to case studies is really is essential, as a journalist, there’s no way around it. But it’s just the case that you have to keep on doing it and build contacts.”
This content is editorially independent and put together by the Journo Resources in-house team. It was funded and made possible through the support of ResponseSource, one of the UK’s leading services to help connect journalists and PRs.
One of their key tools for journalists is the Journalist Enquiry Service, which helps thousands of journalists connect directly with experts, charities, companies and PRs, to give them the information they need quickly. It’s a completely free tool