The Do's And Don'ts Of
Building Great News Sources
The Do's And Don'ts
Of Building Great
Building sources in this business can be tough.
No matter if you’re new to the game or a veteran, at some point, you’ll move to a new city where you don’t know anyone and you’ll have to start from scratch. Before we talk about tips on how to build up a list of sources, let’s talk about the cruel reality of people’s perceptions and rumors.
Too often, people are far too quick to judge and say things like, “Well, she just slept her way to the top.” 😒 Even within our own newsrooms people will question, “Well how did you even get that story?”
This can happen to male reporters too, but, being a female, I have been through these very scenarios. Is it unfair? YES. Is it a reality? Sadly, the answer to that question is ‘Yes’ as well.
However, despite all the times we have to defend ourselves and prove our credibility, honesty, and interpersonal communication skills, some will never accept that we are truly just really good at what we do.
That being said, we are in the public eye, and it is very important you know which lines shouldn’t be crossed.
For example,something you should NOT do is hang out at a bar with the (insert official here).
Some other “don’ts” include:
- Babysitting their children
- House sitting for them
- Walking their dogs, and so on...
Again, even if you are just there as colleagues, or don’t mind doing a favor for them because you love animals…it could be interpreted in a less-than-professional way.
So, make sure you really DO maintain a professional and ethical working-relationship with all of your sources. Always acting in a professional manner alone can go a long way. Couple that with the fact that you actually care about your career, the story you’re covering, and ethical behavior…well, you’ve found the golden combination. 😉
But HOW do we make sure all of those things come across?
Let’s just begin with the first meeting or encounter. My advice here would be when you get to a new station, (once you get all the “new employee” tasks completed, like setting up your computer, email account, payroll, paperwork, etc.) take a full day to go around an introduce yourself to the heavy hitters in town.
Clear this with your mangers, of course. But just the idea that you want to do this, and brought it up with your managers first, will also win you some brownie points with them! Ask for their advice on who you should talk to and where you should start.
When you go on this introduction tour, take your business cards if you have some. If not, make sure to somehow leave your information with them AND get their business card. Then, email them the following day.
A simple message like this can work wonders:
“Dear ___, It was so great meeting you yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I just wanted to reach out, and make sure you got my email address. Please let me know if I can be of any help in the future.”
This message says to them that you are excited about meeting them, you appreciate them, you want to help them, and you aren’t just the “reporter who only contacts me when they need something.”
That being said…Don’t only reach out when you need something.
This is one of the biggest complaints you will hear from community members. Whether they’re venting to a mutual friend, out loud when news crews are just within ear shot, or on social media, word will eventually get out that this bugs them.
This goes back to my previously mentioned idea that you have to care about people and the story. One of the top ways to show you DON’T care about someone, or their cause, is to only ask them for things.
To show you do care, check in with them from time to time. All it takes is a quick email, call, or text asking what else you can do to help.
Did they just have a fundraiser recently? Say something like:
“How did it go? I hope you met your goal!”
Did they have a death within their organization? It can feel uncomfortable, but a simple email saying:
“I heard about (name). I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m thinking about you and your team.”
Even if they don’t respond, they got your message and appreciated it. While there are so many scenarios that can happen, the key point to remember is: If you send messages like these, you have to GENUINELY be compassionate, excited, or concerned.
People can spot a fake a mile away. Some other tips include:
1. Volunteering at one of their events.
Go off the clock, just as yourself, not “reporter you.” (However, keep the event in mind. A local clean up, great! A drive for kids’ toys, great! But, do not do this at political events. This crosses those ethical lines and make you appear biased.
While you are allowed to have an opinion, and support whichever candidates you want privately, as a journalist, you must remain neutral to the public.
2. Asking what stories or topics THEY want you to cover.
This may have a few drawbacks. For example, you don’t want to cover that particular thing/angle, you don’t see it as newsworthy, or your boss vetoes it, etc. However, the simple fact that you put in the effort to ask them is appreciated.
You may even find out some super exclusive information that no one has even talked about yet, let alone given news coverage to, that actually sparks a conversation or change within the city. (Yes, that has happened to me so it can happen to you!)
3. Go to any networking event you can.
This will allow you to meet a lot of people. Plus, it shows that you’re active in the community, and take the initiative to attend these types of events. (Always have business cards on hand!)
4. Some people suggest standing coffee meetings, or lunch meetings, with sources.
For example, every Tuesday at 10 a.m. they will meet a City Councilperson at the local coffee shop. There they will discuss some of the agenda items, or top talkers, in the city.
This can also be a helpful tool, but, again, it goes back to public perception. If you do decide to have these kinds of meetings, make sure there are at least three people present. This makes it seem more like a meeting and less like a “date.”
Sad, yes, but again, we have chosen a profession in the public eye, and we must keep our, and our station’s, reputation in mind at all times.
Last tip: Don’t get discouraged. Building these types of working relationships can take time, and of course it takes a lot of EFFORT. You get out of it what you put into it. Keep working hard! 💪😊