I have trouble sometimes getting anecdotal sources for the articles I'm assigned (writing for an on-line mag). I belong to several writers groups where I do post asking for article help, but sometimes that's just not enough, especially if I'm assigned kind of an uncommon topic. So, where do I get these real-life sources? Any hints for us relative newbies??
Ah yes, the eternal source troll. I feel your pain. It seems like I email every friend/acquaintance/family member at least once a week saying, "If you know a red-headed, half-Asian, half-Ethiopian 33 year-old who has not only suffered from infertility but also battled cancer and MS, and has subsequently given birth to triplets and is a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, please let me know!"
I hate finding sources; I just do. But that doesn't mean that it's not possible.
As noted above, I always start with my email list - sending out a blast to as many people as I can, and asking them to forward it on to anyone who might fit my criteria. From there, like you, I also post to my writers' groups. After that, you have to start to get creative. One excellent resource would be any associations that are affiliated with the subject you're covering: if you're looking for breast cancer survivors, for example, there are dozens of non-profits who are happy to help you find interview subjects, or if you need to find people who have quit smoking, try the American Heart Association or one of the national quit lines. Another great place is to check Yahoo or other message boards. For example, I recently needed to find some new parenting sources (I've quoted all of my friends, and all of their friends by now!), so I put up a note on one of the Yahoo toddler boards and got a few replies. The only caveat with doing this is that, if possible, you should ask the moderator for permission first so they don't think that you're a horrible spammer or whatever.
Along those same lines, many websites will allow you to post a message to their members, even if the site isn't set up specifically as a message board. For example, once you've asked permission, you can often post a note to BabyCenter.com members, and MommaSaid.net has a page for journalists to post their call for interviews. (I realize that these examples are catering to specific markets, but I'm sure that there are other examples for every subject, whether it's autos or skin care or whatever.)
Other possibilities: send a note out on Profnet. Yes, Profnet is most often used to track down experts such as M.Ds, Ph.Ds, etc, but if you send something out just looking for regular people, you'll likely get a lot of answers. I did this for a Glamour article I wrote on what changes after marriage and was totally inundated with replies. True, most of them came from PR folks (to whom the queries are blasted), but it didn't matter to me. I got good quotes, and my editor was happy.
Those are the ones that spring to mind immediately. Who else wants to share where he or she tracks down those elusive sources?