Getting sauce from the source

As journalism evolves with technology, remember the fundamentals.

Guest column by Jay Hartwell.

I have learned one thing from watching journalism transform from the Linotype machine of my parents’ weekly to the IBM Selectric used as a reporter in Honolulu to the internet sites deploying journalists today: Change will keep coming.

However, developing and maintaining sources remains the foundation for journalism.

For the past 19 years, I have advised students reporting and running the media program at the University of Hawaii, whose daily tabloid has evolved into a weekly, a website and social media accounts, with its @kaleoohawaii social and video getting the most attention.

Freshmen think one email interview is sufficient to get enough “quotes” to cut and paste into a story. Some of my graduates encounter this in professional newsrooms, where there are multiple deadlines: for tweets, Facebook, Instagram posts and web updates while monitoring feeds from multiple apps and using others to verify user-generated content before filing for that night’s broadcast or next day’s print.

Tomorrow’s journalists need to learn how to develop sources who can make the difference in stories that have the chance to move our communities forward.

Developing sources takes time and paths that may not get you where you need to go today. Poynter and the International Journalists’ Network present these suggestions:

Embrace the small talk.

Be available.

Tell sources about your interests.

Be honest.

Become an expert. Admit when you’re not.

Remain curious.

Share control.

After publication, follow up.

How does this happen for a reporter new to a beat or city? Not by email or telephone. Before you walk into a source’s office, you should know as much as you can about that person and their interests.

When you walk into a source’s office, the most important person is the person in front of the source’s door. Introduce yourself. Note the photos. Ask about the people in them. Establish a connection and nurture it every time you walk into that space, because the assistant controls access.

Show genuine interest (because every person has a story worth telling). Share something about yourself.

The same advice goes for the source, but that person also needs you to become an expert so you don’t waste their time and can share information when appropriate. That means keeping yourself informed about the beat by following the range of sites and publications that address it. Staying abreast of all the things going on in your community will enable you to see connections between issues and people that others do not.

In a lecture at UH about his 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties,” Mark Granovetter pointed out that while regular sources are vital, they form a network known to each other. Weak ties or unused sources are less likely to know one another and more likely to connect us to circles beyond our own. When we utilize more weak ties, we become more aware of other ideas going on in our communities.

John Geraci learned these lessons after failing to help the New York Times create new product. His advice: “Open the doors. Let the light stream in. Get out of the building. Interact … The new value is not inside – it’s out there, at the edges of the network.”

The article was originally published on the website of the N3CON SEOUL 2016, n3con.com. 

About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at lee@koreaobserver.com.

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