advice for developing sources
by Drew Sullivan
best sources are developed over time. Commit to the long run
is a source. Everyone.
must be maintained. Regularly contact them to see what is up. Take them out
for coffee or lunch. Every week 2 sources.
are the best places to develop sources.
people know you are looking for stories and you would welcome tips,
suggestions or criticisms. Always accept these calls and be patient.
to sources how your industry works. Explain deadlines, what “off the
record” means and anything else that will help them deal with you better.
yourself and don't be afraid to be human
sure they have your phone number and e-mail. If it's appropriate, give them
home, cell and pager numbers, too. Make yourself available 24-7
lie, cheat, steal or misrepresent yourself. Sources will respect your
credibility. Credibility must be slowly earned and is quickly destroyed.
honest about what your story is about. If a story is likely to reflect
negatively on a source, let them know.
that you care about accuracy. Ask for proof, documents and details that show
you really want to be sure.
out sources who aren't the "usual suspects" on your beat
friends in low places. A secretary or maid see and hears more than most
people know they do and they are more willing to talk.
to consumers or users. If you are investigating a bank, ask the people who
use the bank what they’ve noticed.
references. “Network” through the people a source knows to get other
sources. Free them to work on your behalf.
your sources what topics you are interested in. You can even tell good
sources what other stories you are working on. Maybe they know someone who
knows someone else who can help you.
you're not an expert. If you don't know or understand something, ask. Get
people used to educating you.
an expert. The more you
understand about a topic, the more sources will respect you and give you
more time. If they know you know, they’re more likely to talk to you than
courteous and listen to sources talk about something you don't necessarily
care about. It may be important later, but even if it is not, you showed
that you are willing to listen.
the music. When you write a
story that is likely to anger someone, call them or give them an opportunity
to disagree with you and to be heard. Listen to what they have to say and
explain yourself but don’t get into an argument with them. Let them know
you care what they have to say.
your mistakes. Act on mistakes as strenuously as you would act on a story.
Call sources personally. Show them that you do not tolerate inaccuracies.
a sources questions. Don't always fell you need to control the relationship.
every address and phone number you can for a source. Keep it stored safely
in a book or on the computer. Get phone numbers for their office, home,
pager, mobile phone, vacation home, spouses work number, email address, etc.
You never know when you have to track someone down.
track of the names of those people or things close to a source:
secretaries, spouses, children, hometowns, former jobs, alma maters,
anything you learn that might later be handy to know.
- Write a profile as a way to get to
know an important source.
- Get sources used to you asking for
- Establish boundaries - beware of
getting too close. Make sure you know whether someone is a friend or a
source. Adjust the relationship if necessary if a source moves beyond
friendly to friendship.
- Listen to
people on the fringe: homeless, criminals, prostitutes, the extremely
the sources importance in their career and life. When you call people, ask
them, «do you have a minute?».