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Acquiring and cultivating sources' trust

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JordanGarretson, Jul 29, 2011.

  1. JordanGarretson

    JordanGarretson New Member

    Hi all,

    This is a fairly simple question, and maybe somewhat stupid. What are the best ways to acquire 'inside' sources, and cultivate and build your relationship and the trust between you and said sources?

    The obvious seems to be report fairly and accurately, and of course, be courteous. As a 21-year-old, I've noticed longevity in the industry also doesn't seem to hurt. You simply meet more people and it increases the likelihood a source knows about you or trusts your work.

    But beyond that, do you guys have any tips? I'm talking stuff beyond getting a good quote for your gamer, or whatever (though that's great too). Scoop-type stuff, I guess.
  2. Whenever you get a chance, strike up conversation with them, particularly when you aren't holding the note pad or using any of it for a story.

    I have found the more time I spend doing this directly correlates to the kind of info I get and how open they are with me when I actually am looking for something. I have sources that a year ago barely had two words to say to me but now will call me once every couple weeks to just casually chat about the stuff on my beat. If you can develop that relationship with enough people, you'll be tuned in and start getting scoops.

    And yeah, being an accurate and fair reporter never hurts.
  3. spikechiquet

    spikechiquet Well-Known Member

    Coke, whores and cash...have lots of it...of course.
  4. I should have mentioned that, yes, cash works better than any of this at getting people to talk, and somehow it always leads to an even more exciting story than you had at first hoped for.
  5. littlehurt98

    littlehurt98 Member

    I'm not sure what kind of beat you are on but I know on my high school beat showing up to a team camp or a coaches camp is a time where you can really get to know coaches. The atmosphere is usually really relaxed and coaches are willing to chit chat more. Plus if you can get two or three sitting around a table eating lunch and swapping stories, you are in. You have become part of their circle.
  6. Walter Burns

    Walter Burns Member

    First, do your job well. Never lose sight of the fact that these are people who entrust their stories to you. Take that seriously. Don't play fast and loose with the facts. Get down what they say. Once you burn a source, it's very tough to get them back, and people talk, so you might burn others in the process.
    Second, and this is the easy part, remember that when people feel like they matter to you, you matter to them. Don't look at them as a source. Make conversation. Ask them about their kids (everyone wants to talk about their kids). Ask them about their vacations.
    And third, never tell your boss anything more than they need to know. There's nothing worse than a half-baked story that had the potential to be great until the boss says, "Can we get this for Sunday?" Off-the-record conversations (and don't be afraid to go off the record. It gives you a better understanding of what goes on, which will inform your writing better, even if you can't publish what you're told) should stay between you and your source. When people know they can trust you, they start telling you things.
    Obviously, this is easier said than done, but that's what I have to tell you.
  7. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Nothing beats just hanging out. Finding out common bonds etc. Showing interest in what they are doing, on and off the court/field.
    The notebook thing is big. Not only does it tend to make a person guarded - you can't look them in the eyes if you are staring down at what you are writing. And be open about yourself, if you are willing to share about yourself, your job, your struggles, a source will be more open to it.

    I always hear the thing about taking a source out for a cup of coffee - it's okay, but it is a little obvious and you probably have a table between you anyway. More casual is always better.
  8. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Another vote for not always being "the guy with the notebook." Go and just hang out, without the notebook. Take mental notes and file them away for later. If you hear a germ of a story idea, don't be afraid to tuck it away in the back of your head and revisit it a few days later.

    With high school coaches, going to see them a little before practice also helps. Football coaches usually have an hour or so where they're in the office and before the kids show up. Go, get your interviews done if you need to, and then just hang around and shoot the shit with the assistants. Or, go on a day where you're not working on anything and do the same until practice starts.
    It really boils down to being a presence without being obnoxious. People skills. If you're around, they get used to you and let their guard down. If they know you're not going to print every little piece of gossip -- who really cares if Jimmy Tailback missed practice because he got a detention for being late to class -- then they'll let their guard down a bit more.
    And when that happens, you can pick up on the really good stuff.
  9. BB Bobcat

    BB Bobcat Active Member

    When I started covering MLB I was told by a vet reporter to always be talking to someone when standing in the clubhouse. If not an interview, just chatting. Building rapport.

    Now I have this vivid memory of myself plopped down into the chair next to Jeff Kent, swiveling around and chatting with him like we'd known each other for years. He must have thought I was such a douche.

    Moral of the story: Absoutely have casual conversations with people to build a relationship, but don't force it.

    Another trick. Once you do have a good relationship with someone, if you see him in a group with other people you don't know, but would like to, be sure to say hello to the guy you know. He'll probably introduce you to the others. And they'll know you must be OK if he likes you.
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