How do journalists source their stories?

How do journalists source their stories?

Where do trade journals find their sources? How do B2B publishers get wind of the next big story? And what tips do journalists have for maintaining a solid black book of contacts? Telum spoke to a range of journalists to find out more.

When specialised financial media serving professional readers report on companies, it is akin to investigative reporting, vetting very possible stakeholders involved.

Trade journals that cover specialised fields differ greatly from mass media targeting general readers in terms of their language, areas of coverage, angles, and even how they pick a topic and source information. This divergence can be traced to the difference between their target audience, according to Jackie Cai, Head of China Coverage at REDD Intelligence.

Based in Singapore, Jackie oversees the financial media’s coverage of China’s high-yield bond markets, reporting on companies that issue bonds and raise funds. They are not limited to one single sector, having covered companies in property, energy, consumption, car renting, etc., to a readership of professional investors and practitioners who take their information into consideration while making investment decisions. As Jackie and the team serve a clientele comprising mostly investment professionals, they rarely worry about spending time breaking down and explaining technical terms. Instead, they dive right into providing readers with actionable and value-added exclusive information.

To achieve this goal, Jackie and her team are more focused on company news on a micro level, while focusing less on phenomena and trends covered by traditional news outlets. For every credit name they cover, they would try to get in touch with every single stakeholder involved. The team would then analyse the company's risks and financial standing following these extensive research. These efforts all aim to answer the question of whether the bond can meet its bond maturity. “What we do, is de facto investigative journalism,” Jackie concludes.

"As we cover specialised business news, we naturally believe in the power of technology, free flow of capital and market economy. Such an inclination leads to the constructive nature of our content."
 
GeekPark, an online new media organisation that focuses on the intersection of technology and business, has put professionalism in its specialised field and the differentiation of content as the backbone of its reporting. In order to achieve its goals, it tracks industry trendy topics for news agenda and story sourcing, and digs out insights with forward-looking values behind phenomena.
 
Liu Peng, the Executive Editor-in-Chief, says that compared with comprehensive traditional media, GeekPark is more vertical in the field of science and technology business. The majority of its content derives from the first-hand information obtained by journalists, while it also heavily draws on second-hand information from international news that need further re-writing and interviewing.

He also talks about the sources of daily topics. Firstly, timely industry events, also understood as real-time hot topics, including important companies' IPOs or mergers and acquisitions, financial reports or structural changes from "head companies", as well as major achievements and application of their research and development. Secondly, industry trend analysis. Changes in many specialised fields may reflect the larger trend of interactions between technology and capital within the whole industry, taking shared transportation and group buying war for examples. Last but not least, case studies and stories of small-sized startups. "These stories are often more representative and with forward-looking value for the future, which makes them as an essential source for us," said Peng.
 
In addition to more than 95% of original content production, republishing news has also become a popular way to enrich the brand. However, due to the editorial independence, corporate news releases are always under a strict selection procedure.
 
"Basically, we never directly publish press releases from corporates. But we do use those news materials as a tool to source data and information." Based on the press releases, journalists will select information that is in line with the general trend of the industry or has forward-looking values, and then communicate with and interview relevant enterprises and individuals. Reports will be ultimately checked by editors.
 
When covering business news in the tech industry, the depth of the story is determined by the relevance of interviewees.

As a Business Reporter covering the technology industry at jiemian.com, Lu Keyan is more inclined to dig behind the scenes of parties. She has interviewed a number of high-profile figures in the technology field, ranging from Matt Angle, the CEO and Founder of Paradromics, to Hu Huazhi, the CEO and Founder of EHang.

Her topic choices are usually inspired by third-party information platforms, social media, forums and even industry insiders. In the beats and companies she follows, any hints of trouble will lead her to dig deeper.

In Keyan's view, the best way to thoroughly cover a business event is to find ways to get in touch with the parties or people most related to the event. "For example, if a company's department has a layoff, the proper interviewees are people in this department and in other departments of this company, industry insiders, as well as the company's competitors."

Veteran journalists focusing on the technology industry often have accumulated industry contacts, which is the best way to connect with interviewees. If they still fail to find clues, it is also a sound strategy to find stakeholders on social platforms such as LinkedIn, Pulse, Weibo, Zhihu and even QQ group chat.

Other than public relations, government relations may be another focal point in corporate's brand-building.
 
For some journalists, it's difficult to cover news without any specific sector or to move to a new beat, which requires the journalist to be more sensitive and flexible in finding story ideas and sources. Besides enriching the content and their own professional knowledge, a question would be raised constantly - who can be interviewed on this topic?
 
Kevin has been stationed in four or five cities during his years of reporting for a state-run media outlet. Finding sources is always a challenge when moving to a new location.
 
Based on the media type, Kevin usually confirms the topic and sends any request about the interview to editors in the headquarters so that they could help to connect with local government or relevant professional institutions. "This is usually related to the macro economy or topics of state-owned enterprise. Local government or institutions know which company is the best to be interviewed or used for reference. Especially in small cities and in places where reporters have no resources, those companies endorsed by the local professional institutions and governments are basically the best interviewees to the topic."
 
In addition to where he's mainly based, Kevin occasionally travels to cities nearby to report on current issues. Exploring stories in a new city also brings challenges: "In this regard, especially when the topic relates to business, profiles and industries, the Media Request service provided by Telum Media indeed helps me getting in touch with a lot of good resources. I posted a request to look for interviewees and materials about finance and tourism months ago and received PR pitches from some head companies in the city."

(Email alert@telummedia.com to know more about our media request service)

If the availability of the authoritative information is limited, the topic should be given up.

Zhang Wang has served as a Reporter and Editor at Global Times for nearly a decade. He previously covered current affairs, economy and other issues, and recently turned to focus on entertainment and sports. Industry trends and public opinion are the primary considerations in his topic selection. Hot topics such as the death of Ji Zhe, captain of Beijing Shougang Ducks, and the death of retired basketball superstar Kobe Bryant in an aircraft crash have appeared in his reports.

Apart from the topic's degree of attention, Wang also considers the adequacy of the authoritative materials he can obtain. He usually cites materials released by official media such as Xinhua News Agency and People's Daily, as well as first-hand information provided by industry connections. "Some time ago, an NBA team came to China for a New Year's visit activity, and I asked a PR friend who was engaged in the activity," said Wang. "If it was a report on sports marketing, I would try to contact friends at Alibaba." 

As for entertainment segments such as movies, the data he uses mainly comes from third-party organisations recognised by the industry. For example, in reporting the trend of superheroes, third-party organisations specialising in Hollywood box office statistics can be a reliable source for data.

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