The Backbone of Investigative Journalism—Contacts

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Anytime I consider a pitch for this class or how I am going to go about writing an article my main concern is always who I can use as sources.  Since journalists are not supposed to let their opinion enter the article, the journalist needs to have many quotes from many sides of an issue.  Since we are not writing for a real paper, it is doubly difficult to find people willing to take time from their busy schedules and talk to some random college student for an article that will never be published.  While some people will graciously and kindly take time out of their busy day to help a student-journalist out, others simply don’t have the time to do so.  This is when knowing a variety of people comes in handy.  People that you know are obviously going to be more willing to talk to you.  Furthermore, in some cases, you may not even know that there is an opportunity for a story if you don’t have contacts to clue you in to it.  Nowhere are these contacts more important than in investigative journalism.  Without multiple reliable sources to tip you off, help get you information, and point you to other people to talk to it would be almost impossible to write a good article.  It helps make me appreciate how hard it must be to start out as a new journalist in a new place without any contacts at all.  It would take a good amount of time and care to make and retain these contacts.   The News Manual explains, “We cannot stress often enough how important a journalist's contacts are. These are the people who can give you story ideas, information and tell you when you are on the wrong track. Make as many contacts as you can - and look after them as you would a friend.”  As a student with few contacts, I can really understand how important it is to have contacts and how difficult it would be for new journalists. 

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4 Comments

Aja Hannah said:

Yea. I feel the same way sometimes. Even in my real articles for the Setonian and my high school newspaper (The Gator Crunch), it was hard not to use the same people or friends. My high school had a rule that a writer could only use a student once ever a year (unless it was the president of student board or something). That way friends didn't hog the comments in the paper.

My dad has no problem making contacts though. Maybe he's been in the business so long that he just knows a lot of people, but he literally has contacts from Richmond, VA to Ocean City, MD to Ohio. And he treats them well like the article suggest so if he wants to keep tabs on his high schooler walking the beaches of OC while he's in DC he still can.

Josie Rush said:

"People you know are obviously going to be more willing to talk to you." And I'm more willing to talk to them. I definitely don't have the temperment of a journalist. First of all, I'm not terribly curious about much, so uncovering savory stories is difficult. Second of all, talking to strangers unnerves me (I guess some lessons from childhood stick), so getting a wide variety of quotes is rather painful. However, sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone for the sake of an article. Since many people we get quotes from won't know us, we have to establish certain mannerisms and ways of asking for quotes that provoke trust, not suspicion.

Wendy Scott said:

I realted to your post in regards to the busy schedules and not time for small talk type of deal. I sent a mass e-mail in regards to the recent article we had to complete in reference to the conference. I only got one response back from the whole class. An teachers weren't as easy either when it came to getting responses. It seems that when the clock is ticking, and time is flying is when we as newswriters begin a real crunch. I know I sure did, but to further relate to your post I have had some major issue with contact of personal and the on campus individuals. I realize how important the vibe and responses for quotation purpose's is. I wish there was more time in a day, and more responses with feedback.
I alos like in your post how your discuss the genourous and not so genrous on gathering feedback. those are really good points in the area of newswriting you point out.
Good Work!

Richelle Dodaro said:

I definitely agree with you, Greta. Sometimes I feel badly asking people for quotes because I know they're just as busy as I am. And, I feel like I can't thank them enough for helping me out with an article that will never be published. I try to look at it as becoming more knowledgable for my own sake on different issues and topics. Even if it's not going to be published, it's still a new perspective or piece of knowledge I'm receiving.

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