The ‘Source List:’ Using Google Forms to keep track of contacts as a reporter on-the-go

Adios, Word document source lists. Buh-bye, business card binder. Bane of my existence.

So, it took me longer than probably necessary on Wednesday night to put together this Google Form.

But hey — anything that’s worth doing is worth doing right.

You see, I can be messy.

My purse is a the Bermuda Triangle of handbags — a place where business cards get lost forever. Once I’ve jotted down a phone number on a paper notepad, I’ll never find it again once a story’s been filed.

In fact, I currently have a cache of sources listed haphazardly in a Word document on Harris (Brownie points to anyone in journalism who actually knows what Harris is.)

It’s 2012. Time to cut out the paper, I say.

This year, I’m going to be doing lots of mobile reporting for ideaLab. That means  traveling around the community and meeting lots of people.

That also means getting organized, remembering who these people are, and how I can leverage these contacts in the future for stories.

In other words, if I’m doing a story about X Company having layoffs, where can I easily search to see if I know anyone who works at X Company?

Say I’m doing a story on gardening. Where can I find someone I’ve made a personal connection with who has a garden or has joined a gardening club?

A simple name and phone number in my iPhone address book doesn’t really tell me who a person is — what moves them, what interests them.

That in mind, I made this Google form that can be embedded anywhere. I can socialize it, so existing social media contacts can fill it out. (That’s a variation of something already going on at the York Daily Record/Sunday News.)

Or, I can do as originally intended and fill out this information myself on my iPad.

This year, I’m making it a goal of mine, each time I go out into the community, to do mini-interviews and “meet” at least 10 people. These can be people who intentionally find me or ones I randomly accost.

Either way, their information will be entered in this form and automatically filtered into a spreadsheet in my Google docs.


Automatic source list.

Call me crazy, but I think this might help me clean up my act.


8 responses to “The ‘Source List:’ Using Google Forms to keep track of contacts as a reporter on-the-go

  1. There are a lot of tools available, the difficult thing is to find one that works well for the given purpose and to stick with it. Google Apps is a great solution with low barrier of entry that can be used for many different things. Then there are solutions specifically designed for tracking contacts and interactions such as 37Signals’ Highrise or Salesforce. One generic tool I find absolutely indispensable for keeping track of notes is Evernote. With apps on just about every platform you can keep your notes in sync and with you everywhere. Plus you can tag and organize them into notebooks, clip web pages, etc. Good luck with the the google form!

    • I’ve started to use Notability to record meetings/conversations and take notes. Can I use Evernote with that?

      I’ll try downloading some of those address book apps. Just curious — do you think they’ll let me store a lot of information about a single person. I’m almost conducting “mini interviews” and submitting them into Google Forms…

      • I’m not that familiar with Notability. Compared with Evernote it is definitely more visual, however one major limitation is that it appears to only be compatible with iOS. With Evernote, I can seamlessly access my same notes whether on a Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android device, or even a regular web browser. Notability appears to rely on Dropbox or other external storage method for keeping notes in sync whereas with Evernote you setup an account and the syncing is automatic. I’m not sure what kind of search facility Notability provides, however search is one of the most useful features of Evernote because you can instantly search across multiple notebooks and even search text within images. (Being able to do a quick search and find notes from a meeting or conference I attended a year ago is quite useful!) It’s more text based, but part of the beauty is in its simplicity and flexibility. Although, you can still clip web articles, images, pdf files, etc (while being fully indexed and searchable) I don’t use tags much, but for example you could tag notes with a person’s name and/or company and be able to quickly find all notes related to that contact.

        As far as storage, most solutions provide an abundant amount. According to Wikipedia, the free Evernote account allows up to 60 MB per month to be entered as notes (that’s a lot of notes!), the premium account is $45/year and increases that to 1GB per month. (Note those amounts refer to the amount of notes taken over the month not an overall total in the account, so with the free one over the course of three months you could have up to 180MB Of notes. For perspective, I just downloaded a copy of the KIng James Bible in text form which is 4.6 MB so with the free plan one could upload that full text 13 times before hitting the limit). The other one I mentioned, Highrise, doesn’t appear to have any limit on notes stored with contacts, only file uploads. I guess the moral of the story here is with any cloud-based solution, storage is so cheap, it’s largely irrelevant from a user’s perspective any more.

        Whatever the solution I tend to opt for those which first and foremost don’t tie me to a specific platform or device. To be truly mobile, I need to be able to access my data from anywhere or any device, and if one crashes or gets coffee spilled on it, I need to be able to jump to another one and keep working without losing any data or time.

        HTH 🙂

  2. Danny, do you keep your contacts in Evernote, too? Do you have a separate “contacts” file, or do you just search for keywords that bring up their contact info, within your notes?

    Lauren, I share this dilemma with you. My paper used to have a big database of contacts but it became too cumbersome to remember to upload every contact, and I haven’t used it for years. I don’t know the right solution. Right now, I just search my inbox and google docs, which is where I keep all of my notes.

    • Notability IS searchable. From the homescreen, you can type in a keyword and it will locate various documents within the application. You click on the document and it will have that word highlighted within. I just like Notability as a journalist, because you can record and take notes and sync the note-taking to the recording. It’s easier to find things in audio, if you didn’t get the whole quote written down.

      As far as contacts, I just wanted to keep track of my personal ones. The spreadsheet this form filters into serves two purposes. 1) I have a list of people I’ve established a personal connection with, where that connection was established, and future reasons I might want to call them back 2) I have a quantifiable list of the types and number of people I’m reaching on each mobile reporting excursion for ideaLab

      Our newspaper stores source lists for police, fire, schools, etc. that are shared within the newsroom through our internal Google site. These lists are nothing more than simple word documents with people’s titles and numbers. It wouldn’t tell me, for instance, how old someone is, what their interests are, where they live, etc. Sometimes this info is valuable.

      • @Aimee: My personal needs are rather simple, so I just use the contacts list within my Google Apps account. For referencing past conversations and meeting notes, I rely on a combination of Gmail’s Archive and Evernote. (I even backup my text messages in gmail so they’re searchable using SMS Backup+). At the company I work for, we use a standard client relationship manager (CRM) for our needs. In our case we use Salesforce which works well for us, but this is oriented towards B2B use.

        You make a valid point about the overhead involved in entering the information. It definitely takes more time to log a call or email into some app or CRM, but the payoff down the road makes it worthwhile because you can instantly view the history of a contact. We made a rule in our organization, that roughly speaking “If it’s not in Salesforce it doesn’t exist”.

        On a related note, I just remembered a site I found recently, greplin, which creates a comprehensive aggregate search from multiple sources. So, you could for example search evernote, facebook, google docs for a name with a single search. Very interesting stuff. One trend is that we seem to have moved away from the old days of filing everything to a more efficient and convenient method of using advanced search tools.

        @Lauren: Interesting to see how they’re using Google Apps. It’s definitely a great suite of solutions for collaboration, and I use it regularly. Google Sites, in particular, is a great option for organizations to keep track of and share data. You can integrate google docs directly into your site, easily add content, create directories, and more. Plus, it’s all searchable.

  3. By the way, you both are awesome for commenting on my blog 🙂

  4. Looks like your making a “LB WiKipedia” .:-))

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