Introduction to Reporting: Beat Basics
The best stories usually are the culmination of diligence and hard work. An invaluable part of this is the ability to find and develop sources. Here are some keys to building successful relationships with your sources.
Let people you cover know you're interested in hearing tips, suggestions, complaints, whatever. Make sure they have your phone number and email address. If it's appropriate, give them home and cell numbers, too. Make rounds frequently -- in person, telephone and whatever electronic means they use to communicate: social media, text, email, instant message.
Never mislead a source. Be honest about the direction a story is taking. If it's going to be a "negative" story, don't bill it as something else. If you're not going to write a story about a tip, don't indicate that you will.
If you don't know or understand something, ask. Sources will respect your honesty. Also, if you fake understanding, they will catch on quickly and you will lose credibility. After you ask about an issue, repeat your understanding back to the source for confirmation.
You can play "good cop" with some sources your predecessor had problems with. But avoid casting your predecessor as the "bad cop." Also, be aware that the source may have unrealistic expectations of relations with the press. Don't promise positive stories. Just hear the source out on complaints, assure him or her that you want to be fair and ask for a fair chance in return.