Have a Question? Seek an Answer.

Our job as journalists consists of three basic things: asking questions, chasing sources to find answers to those questions, and reporting back to the public with answers.  That’s if we’re lucky.   What usually ends up happening is we spend our entire day on step two- playing the waiting game with interviewees- in some cases never even garnering a response.  Frustration hits and the story dies a painful death.

This fact of the industry will always remain, but a new website can provide answers- quick and easy- with help from…your Facebook friends?  Indeed, your social network may now serve as your best source. Before you bemoan what this world has come to, don’t squash the validity of your friends and family.  Sure, Aunt Alison may not be the best person to consult about foreign affairs, but I’m betting there is at least one other person in this wacky world wide web that can offer a somewhat thoughtful response (or at least offer an interesting perspective) to incorporate into your story.

The site is called Quora, and it’s fast-growing community Q &A repository.  Community Q & A means you post questions, in search of thoughtful answers.  You reach these answers from people within the Quora community.   That community can include your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but obviously is not limited to just that. Simple?

I started experimenting with Quora this week and found that it was very useful for checking the validity of sources and finding ways to contact them .  On Quora, you click on a link and get back to a Facebook or Twitter page which helps with attributing information for a story.

When you want to gauge interest in a topic you’re covering, you can explore the buzz surrounding it on Quora.  Pose a question.  See who responds.  Browse and see what questions people are asking.  Quora is a good resource for discovering what people are saying about the topics you cover, and the questions they want answered.  Of course, you could do much the same with Facebook and Twitter but with Quora you reach a more targeted audience by filing your question under specific topics.

For instance, as a social media enthusiast, I was wondering how a writer’s online presence should be structured.  I searched on Quora and saw that someone had already asked the question under the social media topic.  There are currently 3 responses- all very thorough- making for a lively discussion.  I am now following the question and can read all subsequent responses from users within the Quora community.  I expect the responses to give me new ideas for a future blog post, and if more people reply, it will indicate that people care about this topic.

Like any blog or forum, Quora run the risk of low quality responses entering its stream. In the limited time I’ve spent on the site, however, I have yet to encounter a subpar statement. (Perhaps because Quora is not mainstream enough.) Nonetheless, Quora is constantly looking for ways to maintain high quality questions and answers.  As Quora grows in popularity, it is likely that more fluff will infiltrate its system but until then…it has great potential for journalists seeking new ways to find sources, reach targeted audiences and contribute to discussions about their news organizations.

Find me on Quora:  Lynne Guey

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