Columnists Get Tips on 'Mouse Pad' Research

By: Dave Astor Speakers offered tips on computer research and "shoe-leather" reporting Saturday at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference.

Jenice Armstrong, who writes about pop culture and other topics for the Philadelphia Daily News, said she frequently uses PR Newswire's ProfNet service when she needs people to interview on an hour or two's notice.

"You'll find people you never would have dreamed of calling," she said. "Authors who have written books on an obscure subject, doctors, and everyday people. It's the best resource I've ever had in journalism."

Armstrong added that "it's best to talk to people face to face, but there isn't always time to do that."

Former Daily News reporter Nicki Egan -- now a People magazine staffer who often writes crime stories -- said she finds the AutoTrack online service very helpful in finding the contact info of crime victims, witnesses to crimes, and others she's trying to interview. She also uses FaceBook and MySpace as a way to get in touch with people.

Egan added that while she's persistent in trying to interview people for stories, she also tries to be polite and not force herself on those who don't want to talk.

Steve Volk, who writes about drugs and crime for Philadelphia Weekly, often knocks on doors in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods to find people to interview. He said talking to people directly, and seeing the environment they live in, makes for better and more gripping stories.

"It's not complicated," added Chris Brennan of the Daily News. "Get out of the office, work hard, and you'll be rewarded. And if you think you should talk to one more person, talk to two. The next person might be the real scene-teller."

The panel was moderated by Jennifer Graham, a former radio reporter who has taught electronic information gathering.


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