By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger
When it comes to finding sources and people to talk for your stories, it may seem easy. But in reality, finding them is just the beginning.
Some people come to you and want to share everything. Great, right? It can be, until you do a little research and learn your source used to be married to the owner of the company he is blaming for x, y, z. This, I hope, makes you question their motives. And I think it should make you dig a little deeper to try to find more details and hopefully a more unbiased source.
Then there are the times where no one will talk; or at least not on the record. You have tried to convince them to do a silhouette interview, disguise their voice, etc.; but no luck. Now you are left wondering who this person is, what they are afraid of and why they won’t go on the record.
Once you find the source, the hard work begins. Here are some things to make sure you are doing to verify your sources and their motives.
1. Always check their background. This becomes especially important for investigations or any individual making claims against a company that could be detrimental to business or their reputation. Look for potential lawsuits. Is this a former employee stepping forward? Are they related in some way to a party involved? Did they use to be related? Possible ex-spouse? Is there some sort of financial motive involved? Is this just about retaliation? Make sure you cover all of your bases here, because the answers to some of these questions could really change the direction of a story and possible change whether or not your station covers it, too.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask about motive. Why are they coming forward with information now? What do they want to see happen? Asking them can really help you better understand the bigger picture. Sometimes people may just want their money back but sometimes there may be a bigger story there waiting to be uncovered.
3. Use anonymous sources carefully. Whenever you go on the record in a story and include an anonymous source make sure the decision to do so has involved a careful discussion. I also think you should make sure you have exhausted all other options before relying on the anonymous source as your main citation for information in a story. Is it possible to use the information your source is giving you to submit public information requests? Can the information your anonymous source is giving you be provided by others on the record?
4. Be open about who the source is. If you are using a source that is in the middle of a lawsuit with the company in your story, make that clear. Be sure to be as transparent as possible about who your sources in your story are. If they used to work for the company or are somehow related to anyone involved in the story make that known. Not sharing this information could make your story seem biased to viewers or worse, viewers could think you did not even check or do your research.
5. Be balanced. You have to find out what the “other side” has to say. You cannot move forward with a story without the complete picture. This means also giving both sides as much of a chance to share their opinion as the other. For example in a whistleblower case, you cannot just hear from the whistleblower; you must talk to the other parties involved.
Does your station or news organization have a policy on sources? Let me know what some of the basics covered in the policy are: [email protected] or on Twitter @LWalsh.
Lynn Walsh in the Investigative Producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach, Florida. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.
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