How to find + network with journalists on Twitter (without being a sleazy stalker)…

Journalists can be a pretty difficult to get hold of. They don’t pick up their phones, answer emails or respond to invites (not without a lot of prompting anyway). Which can be sooo frustrating if you’re trying to pitch a story.

Twitter is one place you can get direct access to journalists. Over the past few years, they’ve flocked to the social media platform where they can build a following for their work (and, in some cases, their personal brand).

But while it’s easy to find big-name journalists, hunting down useful day-to-day contacts – a section editor on an industry magazine or a specialist freelancer, for example – can be more challenging. And when you do track them down, how do you build relationships without sounding like a creep? Read on and find out…

Finding journalists 

If a Google search or doesn’t turn anything up, check out Muck Rack  – a kind of ‘whos who’ of Twitter. You can do a basic search of journalists by media outlet or beat for free, and there are a number of ‘paid for’ options to help find the right journalist for your story, create and manage lists of journalists you want to follow (although you can do this yourself on Twitter – more on that later) and send you alerts when you’re mention by a journalist. It’s an American site, so most of the publications you’ll see listed are US based, but the UK media is also well-represented.

Press Pass is another tool for finding journalists online, although at the time of writing, there are only 6 organisations and 354 reporters listed for the UK. There are only 27 reporters listed for the BBC and there seem to be only minimal information available at the moment, although it’s early days, so perhaps one just to keep an eye on.

Directories like Twellow, WeFollow and JustTweetIt can also help you find media people  (using ‘journalist’ or ‘editor’ plus other keywords to narrow your search) but as they are user-generated directories i.e. people register their own contact details, your results can be a bit hit and miss.

Personally, I find one of the most effective ways to find journalists is to stalk other peoples’ Twitter lists. Many users (myself included) make lists of relevant journalists in their field so they can keep tabs on what they’re interested in on a daily (or if you’re in full-on stalking mode) hourly basis.

I’m amazed how few people know they can save time by following other peoples’ lists (instead of creating they’re own). And if you’re wondering how to find relevant lists, think rivals: your competitors (or the PR companies that represent them) or journalists in similar fields (some will have lists of hacks on rival publications/programmes).

Networking with journalists on Twitter 

Once you’ve tracked down journalists you want to get to know better, a few dating principles can help:

Do more listening than talking.

Following what journalists are talking about, the kind of content they’re sharing and people they want to talk to can tell you a lot about the kind of stories they’re interested in covering. You’ll also be the first to know, if they’re looking for case studies or experts.

Build relationships not one-night stands

Unless you’ve got a really great story that just can’t wait, concentrate on getting to know them first. Respond to tweets, share links to their articles (or other interesting stuff they share) but hold back from selling yourself or your organisation. Positioning yourself as a useful person with expert knowledge and good contacts can go an awful long way.

Don’t come on too strong

Unless it’s your mum, better half or celebrity crush (you wish), the same person popping up on your newsfeed every time you log in can be a bit freaky. There’s a fine line between taking a healthy interest and stalking – so do tread carefully.

Make them feel special

Don’t pitch stories on Twitter. Tweet your top line to a journalist and you’ve potentially shared it with thousands of others (including hacks on rival publications), which means they may not be interested. And definitely don’t pitch stories to multiple journalists at the same time.

After all, nobody likes being sloppy seconds…