The Spokesman-Review : interns

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Jared: Put yourself in your source's shoes

While on assignment covering a large motorcycle rally in the tiny town of Rosalia, about 45 minutes south of Spokane on Highway 95, I realized how important it is to put yourself in your source's shoes. After I arrived at the rally, I did a walk through to see where everything was. Then, before the action started for the weekend, I thought it'd be good to track down some key sources so I could find them later for their thoughts. I looked for the Whitman County Sheriff, in case any incidents broke out. I looked for the event organizer, so I could later get his thoughts and a ticket sales estimate.

When I found him, he was less than cordial. First he told me he didn't want to do any interviews and then he asked if I had a VIP pass (rhetorical questions) and because I didn't, he threw me out of the VIP area. I suspected that he was angry about the previous coverage I'd done of the festival, specifically a story I wrote in which some town residents were upset because they would have to wear a pass to enter the town during the rally and their company for the weekend would have to pay $20 for a day or $40 for the weekend just to enter the city, regardless of whether they were interesting in the rally.

After he kicked me out, I was mad. I called my editor, who rightly suggested that I include a 'no-comment' paragraph in my story. I forgot about it and went about meeting interesting folks for the feature. Later, as I was leaving, I walked by that organizer, who sitting in a golf cart. He asked me if I was having fun. I told him yes, and walked by. Then, I stopped and realized that I should at least try to ask him again if he would interview. This time, he did. Because he kept telling me that he was really busy ealier, I think be felt bad about his earlier behavior. I didn't have to put the "no comment" in the article.

The next weekday, I called him to do a followup on the rally, and he apologized for being so rude. He told me that he would have the ticket sales numbers after 5 p.m. and I should call him then. I waited and called. It went straight to voicemail. I waited until about 7 p.m. and tried again. It went straight to voicemail. Whether his phone died or he turned it off to avoid talking to me, I don't know, but I had no choice but to put in there I couldn't reach him.

I don't know whether this source likes me or hates me, and I don't care. But I felt like I was able to treat him a little more fairly by approaching him again, when he wasn't in a mad scramble to keep the rally rolling along. It was a lesson in how putting yourself in your source's shoes can lead to understanding. That doesn't mean making excuses for people who treat you horribly or who don't want to release information to the public. It means being human, and realizing that the people you talk to are too.


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