The source dynamic – How do you interact?

by Kelly on May 16, 2012

I, Kelly, was recently talking to a source friend of mine in Ohio, who told me he has recently encountered young journalists who haven’t taken the time to meet him face-to-face. I was intrigued by this concept – the concept of reporter/source relationships. I got further intrigued by the dynamics between sources and reporters after this blog by John Robinson was published. Robinson writes about how sources and reporters talk to each other – men tend to curse, women tend not to.

As you know, I am no longer working on “the front lines” at a newspaper. I am now in the background, working silently at my home office overlooking the mountains in Steamboat Springs, Colo., for my former stomping ground’s corporate office – Journal Register Company. Reading these articles got me thinking about what I was taught, how I interacted with sources and how I believe others should interact with their sources.

  • I was completely baffled when my source friend told me how often he talks to some reporters on the telephone, but if he saw them on the street he wouldn’t know what he/she looked like. When I was starting out at the newspaper, I made a huge effort to try to MEET every person I would be dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Because I was a court and political reporter, that meant meeting all of the commissioners, the commission clerks, the administrators, the judges, the bailiffs, the secretaries, the court clerks and the list goes on. Because I was dealing with cops, I also tried meeting all the officers I worked with. This seems like a huge feat, but it’s worth it in the long run. Why? I will tell you:
    • The trust levels increase when you can put a face to a name.
    • A meeting in person shows the source, or even the reporter, that an effort is and will be made.
    • The list is truly endless to the benefits.
  • Be professional. While Robinson’s post talks about cursing and male reporters talking crude to male sources, professionalism should always be key. Sure, I used to joke around with my sources and we used to have fun with some stories (especially the sex-related ones) and I’m a chick – but I never let anything get out of line.
  • Just CHAT. Chit-chatting could lead to a lot of really cool story ideas. Often on a slow news day, I used to call up my sources and just shoot the sh**. We would get to talking and while we were, I would be writing down ideas. Sometimes a casual conversation about something cool in the community could lead to a feature story, centerpiece or a mind-blowing expose.
  • Keep in touch. When you realize you haven’t talked to a source in awhile, call them. Ask them how they are and just let them know you still exist.
  • DO NOT overstep your boundaries. When a source tells you to never call him on a cell phone – NEVER CALL HIM ON A CELL PHONE. Sometimes, yes, the situation calls for it. But if you are reading a petty police report that would just end up being a brief anyway, then don’t misuse the privilege of having a cell phone number. When a source gives it to you and says only use in emergencies only, don’t abuse it.
  • If you’re a woman in a “man’s world,” for example – a courthouse. Don’t let the men walk all over you and don’t take crap. That is all.
  • Be assertive. Be strong and confident when asking questions. Use emotion in your voice. Ask emotional questions. GET THE DAMN STORY and know you’re going to rock.
  • Let your sources teach you and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You know the old saying, “there isn’t such a thing as a stupid question”? That is true sometimes. When I became a court reporter, I had only stepped foot inside a courtroom twice (once for a story, once for my own college stupidity) and I had to ask questions. What does this mean? What does that mean? Your sources will appreciate this because it shows you want to be accurate.

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