In my few years as a technology writer, I must say that I have come across tidbits of news and information from the most interesting of sources. Of course, there’s the rumor mill of tech information — upcoming gadgets leaked through developer forums, former colleagues who have insider knowledge and the like. Then there are also the social networks, where pundits, developers, observers and media professionals tend to congregate these days.

The better journalists would also develop long-standing relationships with experts, industry insiders and other sources, although the sanctity of the reporter-source secrecy has been diminished a few years back when Apple successfully sued a blogger to reveal his internal sources from within the company. Then there’s also the relationship maintained between PR professionals and journalists. While it’s PR’s job to deliver the message such that it doesn’t appear too pushy, sometimes journalists will be burdened by the deluge of presentations, offers, review opportunities and events, which may not always be related to their beat or niche.

Is there a better way?

Some startups are aiming to facilitate exchange between the journalist and the source. Among the more popular ones include HARO — or Help a Reporter Out — which launched in 2008 and has grown to 100,000 member sources and 30,000 journalists and bloggers to date. I had the chance to explore a few potential partnerships with HARO since last year, and I can say I found the concept interesting. It’s like a clearinghouse where you can find all sorts of sources, from business experts to someone with a very specific personal experience.

There are also regional efforts that focus on the technology niche. Recently-launched, developed by serial web entrepreneur Jon Yongfook, promises to notify more than 180 tech blogs (including this one) with your launch message. The app offers a per-release charging scheme, which seems to be lower than what other established PR repositories charge. Of course, there’s no perfect repository of news material and news sources. But for startups thinking of helping journalists out, here are a few thoughts that might help.

  • Local relevance – I like how HARO has grown to be a big network. But the sources and journalists mostly tend to be located in the U.S., which makes the service useful for American journalists, but not  so much for us in the Asia Pacific region. HARO lets American journalists find sources on just about anything, even the most obscure of topics. Elsewhere? not so much.
  • Credibility – While HARO has helped thousands of journalists get credible sources, there have been cases in which media have been manipulated by false sources. This is the case with Ryan Holiday, a self-confessed “media manipulator” who successfully convinced several media outlets into believing he’s a credible source for all sorts of topics, when in fact he was only experimenting to prove a point — which is, HARO can easily be gamed by “sources” pretending to be knowledgeable.
  • Ease of use – Services like HARO mostly work through email, and users get alerted to possibly relevant items, to which they can respond. With mobile being the more dominant means of getting online in emerging markets in Asia, it might make more sense to build a mobile-first approach.
  • Social connections – A “pinging” service would do best to take advantage of the already-existing groups and connections on social networks. After all, who you know (social) plus where you are (location) are a good mix when finding relevant pieces of information.

I write on this topic, because I’m trying to find the optimal means for writers to access sources, and for startups and businesses to get word out when they have possibly interesting products and services. For now, it’s still a mix of getting leads from social network connections, local/regional community groups, media releases, and PR contacts. Any thoughts?