Finding the right people

Today’s lesson seeks to supplement Barbara Gray’s excellent lesson on social media. We’ll briefly transition from her lesson by using the realtime social media search engine, Topsy. Then we’re going to discuss some non-social-media techniques to track people down.

Scenario 1: You have the name of a person you want to reach—or the address where an incident took place. With this information, we’re going to practice using ReferenceUSA. It’s not only a useful resource for locating residential listings; it has a helpful business directory.

The non-academic version of Nexis, available through Barbara in the library, has a public records search function that is a much more precise resource for locating people. It allows you to find current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives, and voting and property records. Don’t be shy to visit the library!

Scenario 2: You need an academic or a policy expert who can speak knowledgeably about something. Nicholas quoted two professors of forensic psychology in his recent CD story. How did he find them? Several resources for finding experts are available through our Research Center wiki here. We’ll briefly tour some of them. I often use Google Books to help locate people with expertise; we’ll discuss how. Then we’ll discuss how we might find an expert using a news search in Nexis, followed by a quick practice session. For top-down sources in city government, the New York City Green Book is an invaluable resource. (It is only available in paper form; we have one in the library.)

Scenario 3: You have the broader story idea but you don’t yet have the people to populate it. Let’s say you’re writing a piece on crime against seniors in Dyker Heights, as Gosia recently did. She began her story with an anecdotal lede about the Bunescus—a couple in their 60s who had been robbed in broad daylight while they were home. How did she find this couple?

One takeaway from today:

Sources are often more willing to talk to you if they are contacted first from within their own circle of trust. A good case study is Robert Worth’s New York Times piece, “Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan?” The Yemeni tribesman who provides the remarkable details at the beginning of the piece was contacted through his employer and friend in Sana.

In my own pieces on undocumented immigrants in the American healthcare system or in two stories that involved disability, I was also able to gain access to the characters in the story only through introductions by others who knew and trusted me.

To finish, we’ll discuss continued barriers you’ve faced in gaining access to sources—as well as any questions you may have. In the last lesson on December 7th, we’ll go into further depth about how to find information on your sources that they might not disclose to you. Jack Styczynski’s helpful handout on backgrounding resources is here.

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