Tips for finding news stories on social media

You think you know how to search Facebook? Think again…

Originally published on

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Our communities are moving more and more online. As journalists we need to follow them.

Anybody posting a social media update, personalising their profile or hash-tagging a tweet is creating a footprint for you to follow.

I’ve interviewed nurses in the Philippines and Portugal without moving from my kitchen table, and for the foreseeable future, I’ll be using the same techniques as a radio reporter working from home whilst we all wait for COVD-19 to blow over.

Here are my tips and tricks…


Demographic: Mums, your “regular jo’s”, anybody born before 1997 (because “Facebook’s for old people” apparently?!)

Useful for the “person affected” story

If you want to speak to people directly affected by the story you’re covering, eg. flooding, which has been devastating parts of the West Midlands recently, then come to Facebook.

What you can find: Support groups, events, campaigns/fundraisers, hyper-local/community news, local businesses and specific* individuals.

Facebook is great for finding anything and any-one ranging from hyper-local to half way across the World…

General Election 2019: Your views in the West MidlandsAuthor: Laura Sanders Published 10th Dec 2019Last updated 10th Dec 2019 With just days to go until the General…

Facebook can be great for finding leads as well…

Some of my original stories have come off the back of scrolling through local events and community networks.

Worcestershire Mums NetworkAn inclusive, gentle, non-judgemental support network for mums in Worcestershire. Please answer all the questions prior…www.facebook.comFour Oaks Neighbourhood NewsFour Oaks Neighbourhood News. 5,755 likes · 1,161 talking about this. A local information page providing basic updates…www.facebook.comFilipino Nurses United – NationalIn this time of CoVID19 health emergency, the priority should be health, thus health workers in the frontline should be…www.facebook.comSupport Ironbridge Businesses DayShopping event in Telford, United Kingdom by TelfordLive on Sunday, March 15 2020 with 122 people interested and 28…

*and if that’s not enough…

Facebook Graph Search

What is it? Facebook Graph Search (FGS) is a way of carrying out an advanced search on facebook using a number code from the URL. You can find people based on a combination of criteria such as their:

  • place of birth
  • place of work
  • city of residence
  • job title
  • age

These will all have a unique number in the URL which is used to carry out the FGS.

For example, you can find:

Nurse, born in the Philippines, working in Birmingham

Teacher, working in Worcester

Of course, it’s down to the information people put on their profiles and how tight their privacy settings are, but it’s generally a good way of finding somebody specific, especially if you’re trying to localise a story

Plugging the gap: How the NHS is “brain-draining” other countries for a quick fix to workforce…Originally published on on 23rd July 2019. As the staffing crisis in the NHS continues to…

For more on how to do this, read Paul Bradshaw’s step-by-step guide on how to do a Facebook Graph Search:

Facebook graph – Online Journalism BlogLast week one of the students on my MA in Online Journalism was looking to find French people based in the city for a…


Demographic: Age ranges between 16–60+, it’s a much broader age range but users are more professional/worldly/political than Facebook.

People use Twitter to:

  • Catch up with the latest news,
  • Tweet about something others are talking about (hence — Trending)
  • Network and get the word out about something

You can find: Trending topics, media-based professionals, universities, police/emergency services, local authorities, news, politics, charities & NGOs… and pretty much anywhere that has a press & media team.

#jet2See Tweets about #jet2 on Twitter. See what people are saying and join the

Useful for networking and calls to action

  • Trending — If something big is breaking, eg. #CoronaVirus, then clicking on this hashtag will take you to all of the tweets including it. You can also filter results to a location.
  • Gate-watching – an easy way of doing this is using the Lists feature. You can filter through notifications from the accounts you add to your list. See my example of West Midlands Emergency Services below, which I use on a daily basis.

*Tip — Quite often with emergency services like the Police, news will break on their Twitter accounts faster than a press release will arrive to you, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on.

@laurathejourno/Emergency Services WM on TwitterFrom breaking news and entertainment to sports and politics, get the full story with all the live

  • Call to action/Community hours– You can put a tweet out asking what you’re looking for, what publication and in what format, i.e. a “call to action”.
  • Include hashtags such as #JournoRequest to be retweeted and reach more people, or even the hashtag of a specific event in the place concerned e.g. #ShropshireFloods.
  • Lots of cities and counties will have their own “community hour” on Twitter. Community hours are mainly a way of networking for businesses or for locals to share news and raise issues, meaning they’re a great source for local contacts.

Brilliant Brummies: Meet Dave Massey, the man behind BrumHour and its 25k followersRadio presenter, blogger and proud brummie, Dave Massey is the founder and curator of BrumHour; a community where…


Demographic: Millennials and “younger” users, influencers, local businesses and online shops/brands.

Useful for calls to action & interactivity

Instagram stories allow you to ask questions, run polls and encourage users to engage with each other. I recently used my Instagram story to find people in my area who had been affected by the cancellation of Jet 2 flights amidst Spain’s COVID-19 lockdown.

*Tip — Lots of student unions have Instagram accounts so if you’re covering a story about university/students, then Instagram is a good place to start!


Demographic: Professionals — speaks for itself really… but sometimes it is a professional contact we need.

Useful for B2B stories and industry articles and finding contacts who have a “friend of a friend”

*Tip — I really recommend getting commissioned for B2B (Business to Business) articles if you’re a journalist just starting out. Writing articles about other journalists or journalism practices helps you to build contacts.

I’ve recently been interviewed for JournoResources ‘A Day in the life of…’ series about my work as a local radio reporter. I was found on LinkedIn.

Dating apps

I mean… this is commitment…. Also I hope she sent a photo of her nude lipstick! 💄

This isn’t something I’ve tried myself but as long as you’re safe and respectful and you don’t end up cat-fishing somebody who thinks they’ve got a date, there are no limits to what you can find out there.

Tash is a tabloid journalist who has used Tinder and Bumble for stories:

“One of them was a piece about trying to meet my neighbours — I posted in their letterboxes and nobody got back to me apart from a guy who said he was too busy.

Tash then used a dating app instead…

“There was that dating app you could set to really close, can’t remember the name of it but I used that and it worked!

“Although one neighbour kept insisting that he could ‘take me out for a steak’ then said it was weird I was inviting him to my house for a first date despite me constantly being like no I just have to interview you for 15 minutes…

“The others were for various stuff eg. on fetishes, polyamory and looking for health case studies (my other specialism) e.g. looking to speak to people with diabetes.”

@tash_wynarczyk on Twitter

Although it may seem unconventional, sometimes using a dating app can lead to stories like this…BBC Three – Secrets of Sugar Baby DatingTiffany Sweeney meets 18-year-old Valentina, a young woman who is financially supported by seven wealthy older men who…

Tips and advice

It’s all in the approach

  • Be friendly and honest when you’re reaching out to people.
  • Always think about how you would like to be approached and what would make you feel reassured.
  • With radio, people assume I’m going to immediately put them in front of a mic, so I always like to say something like “… If you’d like to give me a call on.. or email me… we can chat further/ I can give you more info.”

Show you’re legit

  • Have a way to show you are a legitimate journalist as people are extra wary on social media. This could be including your work/professional email address to contact them on or a link to your work.

Stick to the basics in your call to action, elaborate later

  • A call to action works in the same way an article or a nib (news In brief) does. Start with the most important bit of information and hook them so they don’t scroll past. Make it clear, concise and make it friendly.
  • I like to put it as a question —

Be creative!

  • Think about your story and the voice you need to bring it to life, then think about the ways you could contact them, it might be a fews ways, or it might be a case of contacting some-one who might know some-one.

Have I missed anything?

Do you have any tips to share with fellow journalists about sourcing interviewees on social media?

Do you have a weird story about how you found an interviewee?

Please comment and share your findings!

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Published by Laura Sanders

Freelance multimedia journalist, presenter & producer |

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