Help! My Source Bailed and I’m on Deadline

Christina Morillo

Tick, tick, tick.

Sometimes you can almost hear the clock ticking down until your deadline. As much as we try to work ahead, journalists are often in a pinch.

And it really stinks when a source bails at the last minute.

What can you do when a source backs out and you’re on a deadline? Not all hope is lost. Here are a few tips to help when your article–and your job–are on the line.

  1. Breathe–there are other sources. Unless your source is highly specialized, there are other people with expertise that can comment. It’s just a matter of finding them. And once you get a name, you can use your journo skills to make contact.
  2. Use a trade group or private company. Sometimes, the best place to get a source is from a fellow media team. They understand tight deadlines and can often point you in the right direction. When I write medical news, going through a hospital’s communications staff can be perfect because they pinpoint the person needed and tell me who’s available. Let them do some of the work–that’s what they get paid for.
  3. Explore other articles. One of my favorite ways to find sources is to look in articles that have covered similar topics. There, I can often find people who have commented that have the right credentials. Plus, they typically work well with the media because they’ve done so in the past. From there, you can Google the contact and get in touch.
  4. Google away. Speaking of searching for sources, one of my best tricks is to use a few keywords and add any credentials. If I need to contact a doctor who specializes in diabetes, I’m using phrases such as “diabetes M.D. contact”  or “diabetes M.D. email” and going from there. You could include a certain location or region to narrow things down.  Another tip is to use your keyword and “media contacts” in the search form because there are often tip sheets or organizations that have compiled experts in a specific field. So if I want to find a source that knows about groundwater contamination, I could use “environmental groundwater media” or “groundwater contamination media source” or “groundwater contamination expert.” Play with the keywords. You’ll be surprised at what comes up. And if it goes to a journal or report, such as a PDF, dig in there for applicable names.
  5. Go academic. Colleges and universities are great places for sources and they have highly specialized folks that can deliver a comment in a pinch. Try the school’s media department as well as the individual; if one person is busy, they can likely find another.
  6. Seek a source database. A service like ProfNet or HARO can be a heaven-sent when the clock is ticking. Just look through experts using their search network. Again, these people are familiar with tight deadlines and speaking to the media, which is an added bonus. (The last thing you want on a deadline is to have to explain to someone not familiar with the media about how the media works!)
  7. Think press release. Another place to find awesome sources familiar with a topic and working with the media is via a press release. Use a database such as Businesswire or type in a few keywords and put “press release” in parentheses and your search will bring up sources who have commented in a press release. From there, grab the name of the source OR the public relations person. (I tend to stay away from PR agencies when I’m in a pinch, especially, because they may take longer to find a source or want you to include their product or pitch in the story…not cool when you’re looking for an objective comment.)
  8. Be nice. The source that bailed may be useful in the future, so don’t burn the bridge. In turn, inform the new source that you are on deadline up front so you can determine if he or she can meet your timeline.

What other sources for sources do you like? Leave a note in the comments!