Introduction to Reporting: Beat Basics

February 23, 2016

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.

Be curious
You’re not going to profile everyone. But you might profile anyone on your beat someday. Learn about their families, hobbies, backgrounds, favorite sports teams, etc. Even if you never write that profile, learning these things will bring some tips your way. Arrange as much in-person reporting as time allows. Few techniques are more effective or compelling than descriptions of scenes you’ve witnessed firsthand.

Be a good listener
Sources may want to bend your ear about a matter other than what you want to talk about. Listen, anyway. You may get an unexpected news tip.

Be accurate
If someone gives you figures off the top of her head, ask where she got those figures, then check the original source. Call back sources to confirm spellings, figures, processes, chronologies, etc. Ask for reports, documents, business cards, personnel directories, calendars that can confirm spellings, numbers and other facts.

Become an expert
The more you learn about the complicated issues, technology and economics of your topic, the more your sources will respect you, the harder it will be for them to mislead you, and the easier it will be for you to spot good stories. Read books, articles, reports, your organization’s archives, anything and everything.

Taken from Introduction to Reporting: Beat Basics, a self-directed course by Steve Buttry at Poynter NewsU.

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