How to get stories as a citizen journalist

Research for news or feature stories is very different to academic study. Time limits or  ’deadlines’ are usually more critical and the depth of information required is much less. In journalism, research will be for background information and for the purposes of finding people you can interview for expert comment or analysis. These are called  ’sources’. In news journalism, a single source is often used in an article but feature writers use several sources.

Most organisations have designated employees who deal with media enquiries. They are usually called a press officer and work in the press office. But they may be a marketing person or even staff at a public relations company. The press office will supply you with news releases, brochures and leaflets, known as  ’hand-out’ material. Press officers are usually helpful, all too aware that today’s journalism student or writing enthusiast may be tomorrow’s Fleet Street staffer. They will answer your questions and may assist you to arrange an interview with a source which, in television, is called unflatteringly a  ’talking head’. Adding your contact details to a press officer’s mailing list can result in invitations to potentially valuable sources of stories like product launches and news conferences. Potential interviewees can be found using publications including:

The Directory of British Associations, available in most reference libraries.

The Hollis Press and Public Relations Annual

The Writers and Artists Yearbook

The Guardian Media Guide which lists a range of media contacts and the names, telephone numbers and websites for local councils, government departments, hospitals, police services, courts, prisons, museums, theatres and embassies.

A good reference library will have a variety of specialist directories as well CD-ROMS containing back issues of newspapers and journals. It is worthwhile joining more than one library. London has a number of these, for instance Westminster Reference Library, the British Library and the Royal Institute for International Affairs, which researchers can use by prior appointment.

The internet is now an easy and standard source for research. There are a number of major search engines on the net and a few like Ask Jeeves at and are particularly user-friendly because you can enter a question. All the major newspapers have searchable archives, for example Though the internet is a great resource, for accuracy, be careful to use authoritative sites and double check facts when not doing this. For example, though the online encyclopaedic resource is a boon, remember that it is written by volunteers who are not necessarily experts (anybody who wants to contribute can) and therefore information on it needs to be cross-referenced with other sources.

It is not uncommon for people who are new to journalism to spend an inordinate amount of effort on research and then leave little time for the writing of an article. The important consideration in the first stage of constructing your piece is the topicality of the story, its relevance to a target audience and interesting angle. This will provide the necessary focus for your research, saving precious time and labour. The UK’s citizen journalism website is rich with resources for would-be journalists.

The following should give you some story ideas.


What was really behind President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and why did Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other leaders support it?

What’ was the true casualty total after a ‘terrorist bombing’? Who was really behind these earth-shattering events?

What’s the latest on official probes like the investigations into the controversial death of Princess Diana?

What’s happening in a court case, crime or other investigation you’re interested in, but suddenly the news media stops reporting or doesn’t cover at all?

You can submit Freedom of Information Act inquiries to public bodies for you and get important questions answered. See:

Travel and Health

In today’s uncertain world, to what places is it safe to travel? And, with the advent of new pandemics like bird flu, what’s the latest health advice? Tell us about your transport experiences or treatment at the hands of the health service or other official bodies. Be a whistle-blower on information being kept secret by the powers-that-be when the public have the right to know.

Where are they now?

Tell is what’s happened to a favourite soap star no longer in the show? A politician, pop star, sports personality, actor or model – where are they now?

New Products

Write a sneak preview of the latest products like mobile phones, electrical and other goods as a consumer.

Copyright  © 2008

Republished with permission.

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About The Author

Deborah Hobson

Deborah Hobson is a freelance writer and Deputy Editor of She specialises in human interest, celebrity and lifestyle features. Deborah has written scoops for The-Latest, using the Freedom of Information Act to uncover official secrets the public have a right to know about. She looks after contributors and if you would like to become one contact her:

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