Saturday, 27 October 2012

Journalism Tips 48. Getting started on your patch: Building your contacts

If you started your journalism course at the beginning of the academic year you should have been given a patch or beat (that's an Americanism) to cover.

And by now you should have most of the important contacts in place. If you haven't then read on:

Let's start, as we always do, with the very basics. Now I am going to attempt to imagine the difficulty of being student reporter because press officers aren't going to deal with you.

This is a good thing because really all you want them for is the "you've got us bang to rights guv'" quote at the end.

Over the next few blogs we will look in detail about how you should be building up your patch. And how you should already be pitching to your local newspapers.

Today we will keep it simple.

Your (ahem) patch
Your contacts book should have at least 150 numbers in it by now. It may prove utterly useless to you when you finish the course but never discount them. I have hundreds of contacts in my book I've never called. But if I ever need them they are there.. or at least I know who I am chasing if the number turns out to be old.

We will come back to contacts but there are other things you should have done by now. You should have a Twitter feed for anyone in your area. By all means keep it separate from your personal account - it would help if you give it the name of your patch (or at least include it) and you keep it open. First tap out the name of your patch. See what comes up and follow them. Follow any obvious landmarks pubs, schools, local council etc. Make sure you include local councillors, the local MP and so on. Then using the advanced Twitter search that we saw in a previous post see if there is anyone less obvious you can follow.

Follow anyone that follows this Twitter account - if you've called it say My Whitechapel then the people will probably have an interest. You should be constanty tweeting from it asking for any stories always include the name of the patch. Inform people of the stories you are working on, give them updates, throw out more appeals for information.

Set up a special email account and link that to your Twitter feed.

On Google (I'm really not going to give you a link to that) set up Google Alerts, firstly for the name of your patch. But also the names of markets, major streets, the council, councillors, local celebrities etc etc.

Check out local news websites - even seemingly defunct ones which can spring back to life suddenly and for no obvious reason. Check also local bloggers - follow them and bookmark them.

Buy the local newspaper - yes, buy it every week! Again after a few weeks it will prove a wise investment (but I will come back to this).

Now all of this gives you a rolling news feed. It hasn't taken long - maybe one day of concentrated effort. But over the next few months this is the start of having some proper cuttings - AND possibly (just possibly) the start of making you real money for your journalism.

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