Can Quora Help Journalists Crowdsource Stories?

Earlier this year, journalists and bloggers were buzzing about all the potential uses for Quora.com. Now, not so much. But that could change, because word on the street is that the Q & A site is in the midst of another big round of VC fundraising.

A Poynter.org article from January suggests using the site to crowdsource story ideas or sources. I put this idea to the test by crowdsourcing sources for this very post. After contacting a handful of journalists through the site (it is handy that you can message someone without having their email address), I received a chorus of “gee, I haven’t used it in awhile” and “I’m not sure how best use it for reporting.”

For instance, Rob Pegoraro, an Arlington, Va.-based journalist, says although he doesn’t use it specifically for developing sources or reporting stories, he sees Quora as “a way to come across interesting insights that I might not otherwise find … Some of this is purely distraction material, but others yield useful insights on things I write about or give me ideas for future stories.”

Thursday Bram, a Maryland-based freelance writer, expressed similar sentiments. “I’ve been looking at it as a way to find trends and bigger picture ideas early on,” she says. “If there are questions on certain topics, particularly multiple questions that are somewhat similar, I take it as a good sign that I should start thinking about writing about that topic.”

My quest for journalists’ Quora success stories didn’t turn up as many gems as I’d hoped, but I also used the site to find sources for my own series of articles on housesharing. Instead of turning to the usual suspects (PR people, HARO, searching blogs and news articles), I searched for Quora threads that discussed my topic.

Just as Pegoraro mentioned, reading the threads brought up some questions I hadn’t thought of. I also found people with strong opinions about hosting or being a guest, so I contacted a few potential sources and one host in particular turned out to be a great resource. (The others declined to give an interview for various reasons.) His Quora profile linked to his housesharing profile, so I could quickly verify that he was in fact involved in housesharing. It might be trickier to confirm that someone used it as a guest but not impossible.

I chose to use Quora as a springboard for conducting my own interviews, but in some cases, journalists quote directly from Quora posts. I’m not such a fan of this approach, but as Pegoraro points out, “this site has succeeded exceptionally well in getting influential dot-com types to testify about their experiences.” However, he recommends emailing the poster to verify that they wrote it and find out if they might have changed their mind since posting.

Curious about the interplay between journalism and Quora? Check out these additional resources:

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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