Whenever you ask a journalist for their tips on making it in journalism, they always harp on about the importance of contacts. That’s certainly my experience anyway. And I have to admit they’re right.
I remember two years ago when I’d just moved to Stoke-on-Trent for university we had the task of sourcing three original local news stories a semester. (I miss those days, it feels like we’re working on at least ten stories a day now.) The task at the time felt absolutely impossible though. I was nearly 200 miles from home, which meant 200 miles from everything I knew and the people who would be helpful with this task. Back home I knew people who worked at local schools, hospitals and churches, owned businesses, did charity work and all sorts of other things. I knew that if I was at home the task of finding three original news stories in the space of 12 weeks would not be a task at all. But I wasn’t at home. So I had to set about making contacts and finding stories.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this was easy. I won’t lie to you. It was hard. And it was something I had to force myself to do. It meant talking to people I didn’t know (something I wasn’t much a fan of two years ago but is second nature to me now) and having confidence in myself.
I started out by finding out more about the city I was living in and getting to know it properly. This was a fairly easy step, Google helped a lot and reading the local paper gave me an idea of people and places that were interesting. I also spent a fair amount of time getting to grips with the way the city works and finding out the things that make people who live here tick.
Once I found out these things, especially knowing about people and organisations that were doing things in the area, I started making contact with them. I used friends I’d made at university to be introduced to people or simply sent a Facebook message to the organiser of an event that was going on in the city. Ok, the stories I got out of it might not have been ground breaking but they were interesting and they were manageable. And by writing these stories I made some really great contacts.
One of the best contacts I made during my first term at university was a guy who works for a local church. I got in touch with him via email after hearing about a new community project the church were planning and when I explained that I was a journalism student and wanted to do an interview with someone involved he was so helpful. Since then, I’ve been able to go back to him a few times and I’ve had some really great stories from their church about things they’re doing in the community.
So here’s my advice about how to make contacts. Don’t be afraid to send the email or even pick up the phone and ask to speak to someone. If you know someone who knows someone who would make an interesting interview or has an interesting story to tell, get them to introduce you. Think outside the box a little bit, yes it would be great to be on first name terms with the local MP and Leader of the Council, but realistically they’re very busy people and leaders of churches or charity workers are going to have a lot more time to be able to talk to you and will probably give you just as good, if not better, stories. And, most importantly of all, stay in touch with contacts. No one likes a friend who only crawls out of the woodwork when they want something. Really get to know your contacts, stay in touch with them and when something exciting happens you’ll be someone they think to tell.
Oh, and one final thought. Keep a physical copy of your contacts list as well as on your computer or phone. You never know when your computer or phone could be lost, stolen or simply stop working and you don’t want to lose your contacts’ details.
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