An Essay by Terri Main
Use the telephone. Email is fine, but there is something a bit more personal about a voice on the phone. If local, set an appointment for a face-to-face meeting. Incidentally, I've never had anyone refuse to talk to me. Maybe I'm just lucky, but it's true.
I call a specific person if I can find a name. Then I say, "Hello, Mr/Ms/Dr/_______ I'm Terri Main, I'm a freelance writer working on a story about _______________. I understand that you are an expert about this subject and I would like to arrange a time when we could talk on the phone about it. "
I have my questions handy in case they say, "Well, why not now?" but I have given them the courtesy of offering to call at the most convenient time.
Use referrals. At the end of each interview, I ask, "Is there anyone you think I should talk to about this?" Then I use that sources name when I call.
Check the universities, colleges, community colleges and even high schools. By their very nature schools are repositories of experts. You can find out about police procedure just as easily by talking to an Administration of Justice professor at a college based police academy as you can from a police officer, probably more, because the cop can only tell you his personal experience whereas the professor (who is usually a retired cop) has information about various police departments, and is not bound by department protocols.
Make friends with the PR people. You can often arrange interviews through them. They aren't trying to keep you away from anyone. Most want as much publicity for their organization as they can get. Unless you are writing an expose or something like that, they will often arrange the interviews for you. It's just that they have a legitimate need to have a central clearing house for information to pass through.
With universities again, get on their mailing lists for press releases. You'd be surprised what you can learn from them and get a list of experts to consult later.
Check out nonprofits. The heads of places like the local American cancer society can possibly put you in touch with or even arrange the interview with a local cancer researcher.