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Advice on Dealing with a Disgruntled Source

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by DTSEPS, Apr 14, 2014.


    DTSEPS New Member

    UPDATE: A few minutes after I posted this, the guy called, we both explained our side, and we're good to go. Thanks for any feedback, still. I had never dealt with anything like this from a pro athlete, and wanted to gauge some opinions.


    Last week, I contacted a local NFL hopeful, who had missed his rookie season with an injury, to talk about the rehab process and his plans entering training camp.

    I talked to him at 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, because that was supposedly the only time he had free to talk to me between then and Monday when he flew out to meet with the team.

    The story ran in print and online the following Tuesday. Late Wednesday night, I find out that the team waived him.

    The following afternoon (Thursday), he sends me a text saying to not even worry about doing the story, because he had been cut.

    I cover the school beat, as well, and was with our publisher and some local big shots touring a local school that residents want renovated at the time he texted me.

    Here's where I fucked up: I respond, "Yeah I heard last night." I was focused on the task at hand. I intended to continue the conversation, but forgot while dealing with the school tour.

    I send a follow-up text a few days later asking him what his plans are, to which he responds that he would not "be sharing the rest of (his) journey with (me)" because of my response to his text the previous week.

    He went on to say that it was "clear that (I) do not care about (him) as a person but just someone to write a story about."

    I tried calling and sent texts explaining what happened, and that I was sorry and didn't intend to disrespect him. Any advice on smoothing this over?

    Background: I've had almost exclusive access to this guy for almost 3 years dating back to when I started working at the paper. He didn't talk to the other local paper, called me before the TV stations, and even invited only me into his home on draft day last year. We have had a good working relationship.

    However, as my 11:30 p.m. interview time indicates, I bent over backward for this guy to maintain that good relationship and priority access to him, often repaid with texts and calls unreturned for days or hours with no regard to my deadlines, etc. Still, I kissed his ass to maintain the relationship. That's what you do. But one misstep, and now he's decided it's over.

    I am to blame for some of this, I know. I apparently incorrectly assumed based on a previously familiar and friendly relationship that I didn't need to observe the platitudes and traditional niceties when he sent me that text.

    I could've easily said "Sorry to hear that" or "That sucks man" or whatever when I replied, or I could've just ignored it for a few hours while I was busy doing something else, then replied when I wasn't distracted. It's a lesson learned.

    That said, this feels a lot more like prima donna athlete is upset about being cut and is looking for a reason to be pissed. I've called and texted several times asking for the chance to talk, but he won't respond. As much as I realize this is partly my fault, a large part of me wants to tell him to fuck off, because I don't have time to keep powdering his bottom every time it gets a little chafed.
  2. Liut

    Liut Well-Known Member

    I thought you were a little hard on yourself insofar as the blame game. The dude was upset at being cut and lashed at you a bit. No big deal. Good to read it appears to have worked itself out.
  3. MisterCreosote

    MisterCreosote Well-Known Member

    He's a source. Not a friend. Treat him as such.

    Caring about him as a person is not part of your job description.

    You can apologize for legitimate misunderstandings. But going to the lengths you're going to comes awfully close to the source-vs.-friendship ethical line.
  4. Liut

    Liut Well-Known Member

    In a perfect world you're right but in mine, I lose sources by treating them that way.

    I didn't interpret the original poster doing anything unethical. Didn't indicate whether he wanted to be friends with wanna-be NFLer, just wanted to salvage the relationship for future stories.
  5. MisterCreosote

    MisterCreosote Well-Known Member

    You lose sources if you don't kiss their ass and basically beg for forgiveness for an honest mistake?

    Maybe it's originating from the player's end - maybe HE thought you were friends. Judging from the OP, though, it's obvious that these friendly feelings are affecting the work.

    Plus, you're right, he was just cut and probably pissed off. I'll almost guarantee he'll come back when he needs something from you.
  6. Liut

    Liut Well-Known Member

    I've kissed a source's ass before. I needed the source. Never begged for forgiveness, though.
  7. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    Upper deck him.
  8. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    I get where you're coming from on a professional level.
    On a human level, that's impossible unless you're a freaking cyborg. We're people. We form relationships with the people we cover, good and bad. If you view everyone as "just a source" -- which, in theory, everyone on Earth is -- you wake up after a couple of decades in the business alone and empty.
    I've had that attitude and probably left a few potential long-term friendships on the table because of it. I'd rather have the friendships than most of the stories that came from it.
    Plus, here's another thing -- if you're not a dick who views everyone as just a source of information, you might get some calls returned when you really need them. Or a phone number passed along. Or a tip passed along. It's beat reporting 101. Don't always be the guy with the notebook.
  9. Morris816

    Morris816 Member


    I was taught early in my journalism career to develop relationships with sources so they thought of you as a friend, not just a phone number.

    But the thing about friends is this: If someone just thinks of you as a person he/she can take advantage of, or just somebody to make him/her look good or always take his/her side, then that person is not your friend.

    As a journalist, there's nothing wrong with developing friendships with sources. You just have to know where and when to draw the line with a friendship and a journalist-source relationship.
  10. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Agree with that, too. It's a fine and sometimes difficult line to walk. I sometimes wish I didn't have to stay on one side of it so much.
  11. MisterCreosote

    MisterCreosote Well-Known Member

    Despite how I sometimes act, I'm not some huge anti-social asshole. I worked many beats on which I was "friendly" with most of my sources. However, I was never "friends" with any of them. I'd never have any of them over for dinner, for example. If we met for an interview over lunch, we'd each buy our own. Etc.

    Being a decent, social human being is different than forming a friendship strong enough that a source feels betrayed by what you write or how you return correspondence. The player in this case was acting as much like a jilted lover as a frustrated athlete dealing with media.
  12. Liut

    Liut Well-Known Member

    I have no idea what you're talking about here.
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