9 ways to build a media list—for free

Can’t afford a subscription media database? The author feels your pain and has some advice for doing it yourself.

For much of my career, I’ve had access to a subscription media database that enables me to pull a list of reporters for any beat, in any location or any media type, in a short amount of time.

As a PR consultant, I no longer have that luxury because I don’t have an agency to cover the exorbitant cost.

Am I worried? Nah. I’ve never fully relied on those databases. To truly do your job, you need to be immersed in the industry news and know whom you’re targeting.

Would I turn down a membership? Heck no. They are very helpful and save tons of time, but in the end you always have to double-check your work. Bottom line: You can build a media list without them—for free.

Here are nine ways to make that happen:

Identify the story

If you try to conquer the world, you won’t know where to begin. Ask yourself, “What is the story?” Who would be most interested in that story? Trade magazines, local business media, broadcast?

Identify a specific segment of media who would be receptive to your story and start there.

Sharpen your focus

Now that you’ve determined your angle and your audience, identify a segment of that audience that you want to contact. For example, if food reporters are your target audience, identify which part of that sector you want to pitch your story to so you have a place to start.

Is it food media in the Southeast or food bloggers? If you are looking at a national audience, prioritize by size except for hyper-local media. Starting small will help you focus and complete the task at hand.

Create your outlet list

Once you’ve identified your audience, do your research online. Type keywords into Google. For example, if you are targeting food reporters at dailies in California, search “California newspapers.” You will find resources listing them by type, size, etc. This is your place to start. List relevant outlets in an Excel doc.

Fill in the gaps

Research your industry via Google News or other free search databases to identify reporters and outlets that need to be on your radar. You can also use Google’s advanced search to search keywords in outlets in certain geographic regions.

Find your reporter

Now, you need to manually check out the outlets on your list (for print, online versions work fine initially) and search the sections for appropriate reporters.

For magazines, I recommend buying hard copies and looking at the masthead for current staff. Copy names in an Excel list. Look for emails and phone numbers at the bottom of online articles. If you can’t find them there, Google the person’s name to see whether contact info comes up or if you can find a standard email for that outlet and copy it.

Also, check sites such as FlackList or Muck Rack to see whether you can reach them another way. Make notes of recent coverage or why they are a fit for your list. It will help later on.

Use social media

Most reporters have profiles on Twitter and LinkedIn. Reach out to them through these vehicles as a last resort and only if your story is a fit for their coverage and will blow their socks off. Otherwise, they will perceive you as annoying and spammy.


If all else fails and you cannot find contact info, call the outlet and ask for the best way to contact the reporter.


Your media lists are living creatures; they’re always changing. Don’t think your task is done after you’ve found your contacts. Keep an eye out for changes to beats, read industry news so you can catch new reporters, and subscribe to free media updates from sites like Cision. Another good resource for moves in the journalism industry is Gorkana.

Set up alerts

There are constantly new columns, reporters, and outlets to pitch. Make sure you have Google News alerts set up for your company, industry key words, your competitors, etc. Add these outlets and reporters to your list as you see fit.

What’s your tip for creating a media list for free?

Jennifer Nichols is co-founder and CEO of FlackList, where media can easily search, source, connect, and maintain relationships with PR reps and experts within a social network setting.


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