HARO BEST PRACTICES FOR JOURNALISTS, BLOGGERS AND BRAND COMMUNICATORS
Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is an invaluable service for reporters, bloggers and brand journalists who are looking for qualified sources to feature in their content. Originally started as a Facebook group meant to connect a few key friends in the same circle, the group rapidly grew to 5,000 (that was the limit back in the day) PR professionals, expert sources and journalists connecting to create news.
Since then, HARO has grown to massive proportions, spanning the U.S. and U.K. Over 800,000 sources lend their expertise and experience, and over 55,000 journalists utilize the service to locate those sources.
The nature of news has rapidly evolved. It isn’t a secret that information hits the web at a dizzying pace. Content creators are pressured to create more, in less time, and be first to the news. They’re even responsible for multimedia assets to bolster stories for their audience.
Competition for audience attention spans is fierce, and the number of platforms for news information continues to grow. As users evolve their consumption from traditional to digital media, journalists not only need to produce quality news, but news that is accurate and quick to break.
(Graphic Credit: Kelly Kingman)
We’re proud to be a part of this industry evolution, but we also realize that with these benefits can come detractors, including inaccurate or harmful information disseminated through networks at the speed of light(1) and shared without a pause to consider the source of the story.
It’s our collective responsibility to produce high-quality(2), accurate content as journalists, bloggers or writers and read with discerning eyes as sources to ensure that misinformation doesn’t plague our society.
If you’re looking for another tool to add to your arsenal and are new to HARO, here’s a comprehensive guide to joining the service, finding the perfect sources and completing your articles or news stories.
Rules for Journalists
Before you sign up for HARO, it’s important to learn about the rules for journalists, bloggers and content creators who use helpareporter.com. These rules are designed to protect the sources and reporters, and ensure the most helpful experience when using the service. Also, be sure to read the HARO Terms of Service, which you agree to upon signing up for the service.
HARO editors reserve the right to ban anyone who violates these guidelines. If you have a question about the journalist guidelines, please email email@example.com.
Once you understand how HARO works and are ready to abide by the rules, sign up for the service. It’s simple!
How to Sign Up and Submit a Source Request
Visit HARO at helpareporter.com and click on “Submit a Source Request” under the “Journalists” menu item.
You’ll be taken to a page where you can start filling in the information you’re seeking.
The first section asks for your personal details as a reporter, blogger or content creator. Please fill in your full first name, last name, title, company (who you work for), website (where the article will be published) and email address (use the email address that you would like to receive your pitches at).
Don’t worry! Your email won’t be displayed publicly. HARO uses a proprietary system that creates an anonymous, computer-generated email address that will link back to the email address you provide us with. This masked email will look something like this, and is unique for every source request: firstname.lastname@example.org. It is this email address that will be displayed to potential sources and not your real email address. Additionally, this forwarding address will self-destruct (i.e. stop forwarding email responses to you) on the date and time that you specify as your query expiration.
The first part of the form also gives you the option to create a password. We encourage you to create a password along with your username so that rather than filling in all of your personal information every time you need to find a source, you’ll be able to auto-populate the most used fields with your information (email, media outlet, etc.) You’ll also be able to log in and see how many people replied, and if you desire, see those replies within your HARO account and rate them. Rating replies helps you determine which sources are your “favorite,” so you know who to turn to for future stories.
The second part of the form asks you details about your source request, or “query.” Be as specific as possible when filling out this portion to ensure the most valuable, relevant sources reach out to you for potential inclusion in your story.
Please fill in the media outlet that will publish your article or story. Be specific by providing the name of the media outlet and a website URL. This might seem obvious, but this info isn't always given in source requests - let us know what TYPE of media outlet you are writing for. Internally, we have different rules for what we will approve for print, versus online, versus radio versus TV, and we don't always know if the outlet is a print magazine versus an online-only media site, etc.
When submitting a source request for someone to appear on a TV show, state the name of the show, the call sign of the station, the network it appears on and the region it broadcasts in.
When submitting a source request for a radio show, state the name of the show, the call sign of the station and the region it airs in.
When submitting a request for a magazine article, state the name of the magazine as well as the anticipated publish date.
When submitting a request for a newspaper article, state the name of the newspaper.
When submitting a request for an online outlet, state the name of the outlet as well as the outlet website. If the outlet is the online version of a traditional media outlet, please denote that as well.
When submitting a request for a blog, state the title and URL of the blog.
When submitting a request for a podcast guest, state the title of the podcast, the parent company of the podcast or broadcaster and the website where the podcast appears.
When submitting a request to quote an expert in a book, list the title of the book, the author, the release date and the publisher.
When submitting a source request, you must include the name of your publication and/or website in the media outlet field. If you do not want the name of your media/website published, please check off the “Anonymous” box below the field for “Media Outlet.” Outlets may only use the Anonymous box to prevent story leaks, poaching or spam, which HARO actively works to limit.
Acceptable media outlets to send queries for include:
Radio Shows (AM/FM/Satellite/Internet)
Online News Sites
Blogs (Media or Brand)
Published books and textbooks
Media outlet formats that are not accepted include:
Facebook Live Videos
Please fill in the complete media outlet title. Acceptable titles include:
(Suggestions below are indicative of past queries and you are not limited to these selections.)
Good Morning Chester County - WLTX-TV (News Show)
The Bobby Bones Show - 98.7 WMZQ-FM (Radio Show)
Allure Magazine - Fall Issue The Washington Post
The Washington Post - Online (www.washingtonpost.com)
The Cision Blog (http://www.cision.com/us/blog/)
Social Pros Podcast | Convince & Convert (www.convinceandconvert.com/podcasts/shows/social-pros-podcast/)
Upcoming Book: How to Win Friends & Influence People | Author: Dale Carnegie | Release Date: January 31, 2018 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster
On the Summary line, please summarize in a sentence what type of source you’re looking for and the topic you’re exploring.
Examples of summaries include:
Bay Area Restaurants/Cafes/Bars with Interesting Stories
Paid Off Student Loans Ahead of Schedule
Seeking Events Expert on How to Overcome Event Budget Cuts
Birth Announcement Ideas Organizations that Empower the Homeless
Looking for Analysts that can Comment on Edge Data Centers
2017 Cocktail Trends
Did You Move to Pennsylvania Recently? Why?
Most Romantic Beaches in America
Best Boutique Hotel Chain
Super Bowl Finger Food Recipes
Then, in the “Query” and “Requirements” boxes, type in the details about the source you are looking for. Be as specific as possible - what topic you want them to talk about, specific questions you’d like answered and qualifications or requirements for how you’d like potential sources to respond to you. Here are examples of satisfactory query details:
Source request or “query” descriptions that do not have adequate information may be subject to off-topic outreach.
The next section details the suggested post date for your source request. Take a look:
This section is completely optional. If you leave this section blank, our HARO editors will put your source request into an upcoming HARO email to our registered sources before your deadline. However, you can request a specific date and time for your source request to go live to all sources, and we will accommodate if it is available.
Source requests are delivered to HARO registered sources’ email inboxes three times a day at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m. and 5:35 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, except for certain U.S. holidays.
The next section places your source request into its applicable category and helps sources easily filter and view the requests that are most relevant to them. Under “Primary Category” please select the category that your request most closely fits into. If there is more than one applicable category, please select a secondary category in the drop-down. If no category applies, simply select “General” under primary category and leave the secondary category blank.
Lastly, it’s time to select your deadline. Enter the date and time that you need pitches by, rather than when your story is due. This allows plenty of time for you to craft the perfect story. Don’t forget to provide enough time for you to craft the story before your editor’s deadline or target publish date. HARO is not responsible for guaranteed sources within the timeframe requested.
If your query is urgent, click the urgent checkbox. We prioritize urgent requests according to your pitch deadline. If an urgent query has a deadline more than a week out, we’ll try to accommodate it as quickly as possible.
Then, click “Submit Query” and you’re done! You should receive a confirmation email that will inform you that your query was approved and should go live soon.
If your query did not meet the guidelines or lacked crucial information, you may get a rejection notice. This email will detail the reasons for why your query was not approved. Please carefully review your query and the Outlet Guidelines before resubmitting your query.
If you need to edit your query before it goes live, your story gets cancelled, or you find a source outside of HARO, email email@example.com for help with your query.
You will stop receiving pitches from sources when your deadline hits. If you have received all the sources you need for your story, are experiencing too many pitches or need to close your request early, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put a full stop on your request.
Types of Sources
When seeking sources for your story, several types or personas of sources may surface. It’s important to detail exactly what you’re looking for in order for the right source to respond.
Primary sources are someone present at the time of an event(3), who physically experienced or influenced the outcome. This also includes original documents, creative works or artifacts.
Primary Source type #1: Expert - You’re looking for an expert if you’re seeking someone who has many years of experience in an industry or trade, and/or has multiple years of experience or education to bolster their credibility(4). This person should know the fundamentals of the topic you’re speaking on as well as the latest trends, news or developments.
Primary Source type #2: Experience - You’re looking for an experiential source if you’re seeking a “regular person” who has had a real-world experience that you’re writing about, such as traveling to a new destination, eating a certain cuisine, or undergoing a medical procedure that you want to gather information on.
Secondary sources analyze, interpret or comment on primary resources. This includes books, articles, studies and more. This can also include asking a human source for an opinion or editorial or a topic, if that is what you seek.
How to Choose a Source / Verifying Sources
Verification of the reliability of sources is the “beating heart of credible journalism in the public interest.”(5) Journalists bloggers and brand communicators must all verify their sources with journalistic standards in order to combat the proliferation of “fake news(6)” and low-quality content that plagues our world today.
There are a litany of ways journalists find sources for their stories: personal connections, mutual friends, rigorous research, databases and tools. Reuters Handbook of Journalism provides specialized guidance on the essentials of sourcing here.
Sources also have to abide by rules when pitching you via HARO.
When choosing a source, take into account:
- Did they provide all of the information you were looking for, or did they neglect important details?
- Do they fit the demographic, experience or region requirement you were seeking?
- Are they likely to share their inclusion in your article in order to boost readership and expand your audience?
- Is the source, as a whole, interesting, authoritative, relevant and likely to resonate with your audience?
Sources need to be credible, authoritative and trustworthy. In order to verify a source that responds to your request, look at the following factors:
- Do a search of the source’s name to learn more about them. Examine their social profiles, and cross-reference necessary details such as age, location, workplace, etc. to make sure they match the details provided and at the very base, are who they say they are.
- Has the source written content or been quoted in other media outlets? Is their content consistent, or are the details unmatched?
- Talk to the source via phone or meet in person if you can. It’s easy to find sources on the web, share a few lines and feel accomplished. But if something isn’t matching up, ask to have a more personal conversation with the source to verify their legitimacy and seriousness about the topic at hand.
- Do they have extraordinary competence about the topic at hand?
- Are there any contradictions or suggestions that this source might be untruthful?
- Check references: Do the source’s contacts consider them reputable?
Verifying Assets Received from Sources
If a source provides photos or videos, be sure to investigate the authenticity by running through a checklist such as this one provided by First Draft News’ NewsCheck Chrome extension.
Misinterpretation: Verify even small details, such as the number of people at an event when a source gives you a number. For example, if a source states that “there were maybe 1,000 people at the grand opening,” don’t take that at face value. Try to corroborate that statement with photos or accounts from other sources before publishing that number as fact.
Reliability: Take the source’s reliability into account when talking to him or her. How often when talking to the source is their information true? What percentage of the time might their information be misinterpreted or false? Paying attention to this ratio as you work with the same sources over time can help clue you into the reliability of the source.
The same things goes for the readers of news articles. Readers often read the articles of preferred authors, but if they share misinformation or something that is off the mark, that can diminish that reporter's credibility and result in lower readership. Reliability is a two-way street!
Reliability also should be considered when the source isn’t human. If the source is, for example, a page on the Internet or a printed document, be sure to verify that as you would any other source. If you’re not sure of the origin or purpose, it may not be reliable.
Defamatory information: Be wary of false, harmful, hateful attacks or speech with the intent of reputation damage from sources. Such information should never be quoted in stories.
Rumors: Rumors can often be so widespread that they are believed as fact, without being corroborated. This is precisely why an extra layer of verification is warranted in any cases of information that is shared but has no original credible source.
Conflicts of interest: Avoid any conflicts of interest that could influence the reporting of the story. This could mean the ulterior motive of a source, a bias from the source or even the reporter.
Leaks: Be aware of leaked documents or information that may cause legal trouble if it was not intended to be released and is protected by the law. Any document that appears to be leaked should be checked for accuracy and copyright to avoid breaking the law and suffering the repercussions.
Anonymous sources: Anonymous sources protect their identities in order to avoid repercussions. Before accepting an anonymous source, evaluate closely who benefits from the information, and be wary of their motive. Should you choose to cite an anonymous source, methods on how to cite the source in your context are recommended by Reuters here.
Sourcing from social media: Exercise caution when publishing information from social media platforms. Posters can fake an identity, make up information, doctor images and engage in a wide range of deception(7). Here are a few tools for assessing the validity of social media and user-generated content.
Ethics Code: If there is anything you are unsure of, consult the Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics to learn the abiding principles of journalistic practices.
No matter how rapid the news cycle is, we urge all content creators to conduct multiple layers of verification of their sources. Unreliable sources take advantage of the news media’s need to find an untold story or locate a great source to illuminate the news of the day(8). This absence of effective checks and balances means readers and viewers are regularly given fake and otherwise incorrect stories.
Using Source Content and Attribution
The Reuters Sourcing Handbook(9) details the appropriate method of citing a source in content, which HARO expects all users to abide by:
You must source every statement in every story unless it is an established fact or is information clearly in the public domain. Good sources and well-defined sourcing help to protect the integrity of the file from overt outside pressures and manipulation and such hazards as hoaxes. When using quotes, make sure the source of the quote is identified as quickly as possible, usually after the first sentence. The reader should not have to plough through a long quote of 2-3 sentences before discovering who is speaking. Do not run quotes from different speakers together. Use a transition sentence (e.g. “It is a really good result,” said Jane Evans of Brokers ABC. John Jones of XYZ Brokers disagreed. “That’s bad news for the company,” Jones said.)
In other words, please directly quote and attribute any source content obtained from the HARO service. Do not passively attribute sources. Give sources credit for their quotes or content directly in a story either with a mention of their full name/brand, a link to their website, or both.
Publishing and Sharing Your Story
You’ve done it! You’ve successfully used HARO to find sources for your content, produced the content and finally shared it for the world to see. However, the work isn’t over yet. Follow this checklist to maximize the reach of your content:
Share the link of the final content with the source so they can share it with their networks
Post your content to your social media networks
Email your content internally to team members or colleagues, encouraging them to share
Email your content externally or include it in a newsletter
Share the link of the final content with HARO at email@example.com so we can share it with our networks and potentially include you as a featured success story on helpareporter.com
We continue to receive feedback from journalists on the value HARO provides in connecting them with reputable, informative and relevant sources. If you’d like to share feedback on the HARO service, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Resources from HARO
(3) University of Missouri Journalism Library
(5) Kovach, Bill, and Tom Rosenstiel. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. Print.
(8) Silverman, Craig. Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007. Print.