Determine Your Sources

Commentary vs News: As with a thesis paper, journalists start their stories with a statement of their central premise and then follow it with arguments that either support their theory or refute it.  The central premise might be straightforward and relatively easy to prove or not so much.  Chances are you’ll be attempting to answer questions like why or how which may be complicated and often a matter of opinion or self-interest.   Good reporting relies on expert testimony to answer those questions.  You will have your own opinion about the why or how of a story and you should be clear with yourself about what that is.   However, if you rely exclusively on your own theory of why something is the way it is or the best way to solve a problem, then you’re creating commentary and not a news feature.  Anyone in the audience who doesn’t share your bias is unlikely to see you as a credible source, unless your theory or thesis is backed up by facts.

Credible Sources: You can rely to some extent on other reporting to confirm or refute the facts as you see them, but including primary source expert testimony is a better way to go.  So, after you’ve laid out the facts that go into your lead, the next step is lining up experts to make your case.  Make a list of the people you would like to interview for your story. Your list may include actual names or it may include types of people that you’re looking to interview.  For instance, if you’re going to a rally, you may want to interview a rally organizer for basic information and a statement of their goals.  You’ll also want to interview several participants, folks from a counter demonstration if there is one, and people on the street.

If you’re feature or investigative report focuses on an issue and not a specific event, finding sources to interview may be more complicated. Ask people who know people who know people and track them down.  Find experts on the Internet, etc.

Finding experts who represent more than one side of an issue can be tricky.  Rallies, press conferences, etc., often only attract folks from one side.  Depending on how contentious things are, the other side might not want to talk to you.  Try to get them anyway.   If you can’t, then summarize their point of view based on other reporting.   Another good source for expert testimony is the person on the street.  If you are at a rally, there are often on-lookers who although they are not participating directly may have an opinion about the event.  Anyone who is impacted by the issue you’re covering has a point of view worth considering.

How a reporter decides who to interview is one way that a reporter’s bias is revealed.  Don’t be fooled, all reporters have a bias.  It might be class-based; it might be community-based; it might be politically left or right.  Often times the reporter doesn’t realize how biased she or he is, but in an effort to be fair and balanced, she or he should make an attempt to get “expert” testimony from more than one side of the issue being covered.  So, try to make sure your list includes individuals that will back up your thesis and those that will attempt to refute it.

As far as the Grassroots Media Project is concerned the best experts are the people whose lives are directly affected.  Yes certainly, a developer’s life is directly impacted by gentrification but probably not as much as the folks who are being displaced.  A lobbyist or an activist might be able to quote you accurate statistics but you’re story isn’t really complete until you hear from someone or several people who represents those statistics.

Once you’ve decided who you want to use as your source or sources of information and are reasonably certain you can secure their interviews, then you should make a list of questions that will yield the information that you need to tell your story.