Increasingly graduates are cracking into journalism through the perilous world of freelancing. We’ve discussed time and time again how it’s not an easy environment out there, but whether you’re choosing to carve a niche or embracing every opportunity going, research is essential. But are some ways better than others to prep up for an unknown subject? And just how far can social media get you in the murky world of the knowledge-heavy subject? Hacks are here to help with a little how to in the basics of research.
Think of your resources
So you’ve been given a big assignment on Star Wars. Or dance music. Or the rights of women in Asia. And you don’t know your R2-D2s from your Art Depts. But chances are, somebody you know does. Without even getting so far as a Google reader or a social network, scroll down the contacts in your phone book. Your flatmate may have done a dissertation on gaming and youth culture, or maybe a relative knows a friend who works in the field. Personal contacts are more likely to give you a patient and clear explanation into what you’re clueless about, and they’re probably the easiest to get in touch with. Furthermore, somebody who is passionate about the subject is likely to have a whole wealth of resources and blogs at their disposal which you could spend hours looking for and never find.
Get on Google Reader
A well-stuffed and organised Google reader can be a gift on a slow news day. But it’s also a resource powered by Google. Which means it has supergreat magical search powers. If you’re looking for a collection of obscure new technology into festival toilets, or a blog post musing on the history of witch hunting, chances are that a search through several months’ worth of well-chosen RSS feeds will rootle it out. If you’re really stuck, tap in your query into Google but choose results from Blogs only, rather than the vastness of the “web”. Even if it doesn’t yield an exact answer, adding an obscure, if relevant, blog to your reader will probably prove useful in the future.
Make friends with PRs!
Hacks have debated the worth of PRs before, but most of them are super lovely people who aren’t even that pestering. Play it right and they might even take you out for lunch. But in the meantime, PRs are there to help you with necessary knowledge. While, if you’re on a tight deadline, occasional PR-related delays can be annoying to say the least, nurturing your relationships with PRs in your field of writing can not only help with exclusive images or a killer quotation when you’re researching something, but can lead to stories or press trips which will benefit future pitches.
There are a handful of useful phrases and pieces of advice which pop into my head regularly. This is one of them: “If in doubt, ask. You may look daft, but if you don’t, you’ll stay daft.” The worst thing that can happen from asking for information is admitting that you don’t know. Eat some humble pie, ask your colleagues for help and they’ll probably respond far more pleasantly than you would expect. If you don’t feel up to announcing your ignorance across the office, then drop your boss an email or an IM, asking for five minutes later in the day. You’ll be glad you did with that nugget of knowledge you get out of it.
Ah yes, the good ol’ #journorequest. This is pretty much the near-infallable last resort in the depths of research woe. It’s also a good place to start if you are really stuck with your brief. There are, however, a few ways to make tweeting a query more effective.
1 – Be super clear in your query, making sure there’s enough characters left to enable mass retweeting
2 -If there’s room, target your question at a few other users who may be able to help.
3 – Think about who you’re tweeting to. Are the people who are commissioning you following you on Twitter? Are you likely to break an embargo by asking a few questions? Make sure you know the possible impact of your queries before you send it into the ether.
These are obviously just a few starters, and we’re always keen to learn more, so feel free to add your tips in the comments box below!
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