I’ve heard it all the time. The best way to get sources to open up to a reporter is just to spend time with them. Sure, I’ve had sources tell me things in the one interview you do for a story (and the accuracy check) but you can’t really see the effectiveness of developing trust with a source until you try it.
Last week I posted about how to get political candidates to open up to you. At that point, I only had about one interview with each candidate. I learned through those interviews that you can’t just ask them for anecdotes of their childhood or professional life. Those memories have to come about naturally. If they don’t, they won’t tell you the story in a genuine manner and it won’t come across well in the published story.
In just one week though, I got these sources to open up. Going door to door with the candidates can be pain-staking at times. They are out there to get peoples’ votes. Not give their undivided attention to a reporter. But it’s a great way to spend time with a candidate.
Earlier this week, I tagged along with a candidate to ask them some follow-up questions from our interview. What I didn’t realize until the three hours were over was that I probably did just as much talking as they did. I talked with the candidate about where I was from, what I did in high school and why I went into journalism. Simply doing this, we realized we had more in common than we thought in terms of sports we played, music and family life.
This had tremendous benefits. I just didn’t realize it until I started writing. The candidate had given me great stories about playing little league baseball and stories about his Mom and Dad. This is what you need in a profile. Stories that show the true character of the person. I might have talked just as much as the other that night, but it was completely worth it. By doing this, I was able to put a personality to the reporter/subject barrier and develop a trust with the source to get them to speak to me in a completely different way than when they’re on the campaign trail.