ProfNet Success Story: Freelance Writer Terri Williams

ProfNet Success Story

We recently caught up with Terri Williams, a freelance writer with a long and versatile list of business, education, career, and lifestyle clients, including USA Today, Yahoo, U.S. News & World Report, and Robert Half. Her work has also been published in the online editions of The Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Arizona Central, and Livestrong.

Additionally, Terri writes about issues in digital ethics for Loyola University-Chicago’s Center for Digital Ethics and Policy. Her work was included in “A Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics,” a book published by Loyola University in 2014.

Because Terri wears many reporting hats, we asked her when and how she finds ProfNet most useful.

Terri, how do you choose which ProfNet experts to work with when you submit a query?

Usually, the type of expert I use is determined by my client’s needs. For example, for an education client like U.S. News & World Report, I generally need college professors and deans. For my business, HR, and talent management clients, I use executives, managers, and HR personnel. For the Yahoo Homes vertical, I’m looking for mortgage lenders, Realtors, and personal finance experts. I also have a client in the healthcare industry, so I’m seeking responses from health policy analysts and lawyers, and healthcare practitioners for those stories. I love, love, love being able to find all of these sources in one location!

untitledAlso, I like variety, so I’ll include responses from the dean of an Ivy League school, assistant professors at lesser-known colleges, and instructors at online universities. I’m looking for a range of perspectives to provide a complete story.

I usually receive so many great responses that I try to include as many as possible, which makes the articles much longer than anticipated, and sometimes leads to “spin-off” articles. For example, one time I sent out a query for a story on freshmen students dropping out of college. The responses led to a second article on depression among college freshmen, a third article on the decline of male students in college, and a fourth article on the financial factors that determine how students choose colleges.

What do you look for in responses?

Coherency! A few sources provide rambling answers with no consistency. At the same time, I need more than a one-sentence response. I always provide specific questions in advance so the sources have time to think about their answers. Also, the responses should address the question and not promote a particular organization or person. If the question is, “What makes data science a good degree choice?” your response should not be “At ABC school . . . students at ABC school . . . graduates from ABC school . . . the staff at ABC school . . .” because the article is not about ABC school.

In addition, I look for well-rounded responses. For example, one business school dean listed both the pros and cons of pursuing an MBA. A nursing administrator once said, “Yes, students can get a nursing certificate or an associate degree, but no one tells them that most employers are only going to hire the applicants with the bachelor’s degree.” A mortgage lender once stated, “While your credit score should be in this range, if it’s not, you still may able to secure a loan if you do this.”

Do you have any tips for PR pros and experts for responding to ProfNet queries?

Yes. It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then, someone will respond to the query and pitch another story. If the query is about accounting and finance jobs, and I receive an email pitching a story idea on industrial psychologists, I am notorious among the ProfNet staff for flagging these types of responses.

Also, be sure to thoroughly read the query and requirements. My editors are dogmatic about fact-checking sources. If the query is limited to U.S. sources, and you tell me you’re in the U.S. but you’re not, they will find out and they will yank your quotes out of the story.

Do you have a success story from a ProfNet query you sent out? Let us know. You could be featured in our next Success Story post and also see yourself in Times Square!

And if you’re a journalist who has not yet used ProfNet to find sources, give us a try – it’s easy and free. Just fill out this quick query submission form and we’ll take care of the rest.

Maria Perez is director of online community relations at ProfNet, a free service that connects journalists with quotable experts.

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