Tips for Finding Credible Sources via the Internet

Bear with laptop

A woman I met in a writing class was working on a book project. She had never done anything like it before, so she didn’t know how to go about researching her topic. “How do I find good, credible sources of information on the Internet?” she wondered.

Good question. The Internet, for all its accessibility to the information highway, has been known to play host to some faulty, inaccurate data, enough so that it has been the brunt of jokes. The fact is you can’t assume that what you read on the Internet is true, accurate, trustworthy, or worthy of being shared.

But fortunately for many of us writers, there are plenty of credible sources. You just have to know where to look for them and how to vet them. Here’s a list of sites I regularly seek out to find a credible source to interview or do background research.

* Trade associations, which cover industry news. For example, the National Association of Realtors covers the housing market, while the American Hospital Association obviously covers news about hospitals. If you don’t already have a contact there, reach out to the media relations department who can put you in touch with the best expert for your project.

* Government agencies collect data and conduct research about everything from energy consumption to employment statistics. If you need data to back up your research, agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Trade Commission will be strong bets.

* Universities often produce studies or have think tanks on-site. Professors with special expertise in certain topics or who are involved in research studies are good candidates for sources.

* Book authors often have specialized expertise. Check Amazon or Barnes and Noble for recent releases. Note the name of the author(s) and check out their website, if they have one. If they’ve written a book or published an article, they’re experts and they’re worth interviewing.

* Magazine, newsletter and website editors cover the topics of the day. They understand the issues facing their industry and are usually open to offering their perspective.

* Quoted experts in news articles. As you read articles on your topic, note the experts who are quoted in the story. What company or industry do they represent? What expertise do they have? Follow up with them via their website or connect with them through social media. If they’ve done one interview, they are likely willing to talk to you.

* Think Tank organizations and other research firms, such as Pew Research Center provide massive amounts of studies and data, and their researchers are often quoted in news stories.

* Not-for-profit organizations and foundations, such as American Heart Association, can provide a unique perspective. For example, the director of a silent film group can provide a historical perspective on the passing of a well-loved actress.

For most writing projects, I usually begin by contacting the media relations department. Describe your writing project and be specific as you can about what information you need. They will usually direct you to the right expert. If they don’t have someone available, ask if they can refer someone else. But be patient. It may take a few hours or days for them to get back to you. If time is a factor, make sure you tell them that you are working on a deadline.

Once you’ve collected your sources, don’t set up interviews right away, unless you’ve talked with them previously and know them well enough to contact them. You need to be sure they are legitimate sources for your story.  A source that hasn’t been properly vetted can weaken an otherwise well-researched story.

If the information you find is too good to be true, or promises more than they can deliver, think twice before sharing it. Be sure to confirm the accuracy of one source by using a second, and possibly a third source.

Check the Better Business Bureau to determine if there are any complaints against the company or source. If there are, they may not be the best choice of expert to be interviewed.

Do a Google search of topics and individuals. You might be surprised what pops up. For example, enter HCG Diet in the search space, and the list will reveal both positive and negative reports, which suggest that the diet may not live up to the hype. On the other hand, by seeing both positive and negative responses, you may find sources who are willing to discuss opposing perspectives, which can make your story more well-rounded and credible.

In the long run, your story is only as good as the sources you use.

Six Steps to Prepare for Media Interviews

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When I worked at a real estate trade publication, I often interviewed members to report on their business practices and housing trends. Many of these individuals had never been interviewed before, so naturally they were a bit anxious about the experience. Invariably, one of them would ask me, “What do I have to do to prepare for this interview?”

No matter what type of business you are in, doing media interviews can reap several benefits: to share your knowledge and expertise, gain exposure for your business, improve your credibility and expand your portfolio of work. It is an inexpensive and fairly easy way to create publicity for you and your business.

Despite its advantages, many executives and professionals shy away from doing media interviews. Some people fear being misquoted while others are afraid of looking foolish. Yet others feel they don’t have anything meaningful to say or that there will be a backlash from consumers or colleagues.

But the reality is these individuals lack the preparation needed to feel more confident during interviews. Once you know how to prepare for it, you can relax and enjoy the experience.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for media interviews so you come across intelligently and confidently.

1. Understand the topic of the news story. The writer should explain what the story is about and why they want to interview you. If you are still unsure, even after they’ve explained it to you, ask for clarification. Ask: What kind of information would you like me to provide? What can I do to help you with this story?

Keep in mind that most reporters will not provide you with their questions ahead of time. They are either too busy to do that or it’s simply not their practice. Don’t get discouraged. As long as you take notes when discussing the topic beforehand and ask for clarification when needed, you should be well prepared to plan what you will say.

2. Develop a few talking points. Once you have a better understanding of the topic and the information the interviewer is looking for, come up with three to five main points that will answer their questions.

3. Do your homework. If the story requires some background research or statistics, such as the history of women in medicine or the percentage of apartments located near public transit routes, find the data ahead of the interview and have it ready so you can talk about it. You will come across as smart and organized, which writers appreciate because they don’t have to waste time following up with you later to get the data.

4. Provide examples and tell anecdotes to explain your points. In most cases, those examples do a better job of making your points than the individual points themselves. These anecdotes are more descriptive and helps readers visualize your meaning.

5. Keep your responses brief and succinct, but provide details. Think in sound bytes, especially if the interview is being recorded. Give the interviewer the information they asked for, then be quiet, indicating you are done talking. If the interviewer wants to know more or needs you to clarify something, they will ask follow up questions.

Remember, many interviewers have limited time to allow for the interview and they want to be respectful of your time as well. Make your points, but don’t run on and on or go off on tangents. Stick to the subject. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a reporter cut you off because you talked too much.

6. Keep your expectations realistic. Just because you’ve been sought out for an interview doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to more sales, more clients or a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, it’s possible that once the interview is done, the writer may not use any part of the interview. This can happen for a number of reasons. Either the article ran too long for the publication and the editors had to cut your comments, or they changed the focus of the article and your comments no longer fit in with the topic. Don’t take it personally. This happens far more frequently than you can imagine.

Doing media interviews is a great way to build your professional credibility and portfolio. Following these steps can help you build confidence in your ability to speak with the media. With enough practice, in time you may become the go-to expert that reporters go to for insightful commentary about your industry.