As I was working on my profile piece for Mitch Richards a little more than a week ago, he brought up an interesting issue for journalists and sources. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of journalists are journalists and politicians are politicians. What I mean by that is that Mitch was talking about how he wanted our relationship to remain professional and not cross the friend boundary.
This came up when I was walking door to door with him and talking about what he wanted to do with his degree in History before he entered public office. I don’t think we ever came close to crossing that boundary, but it brings up an interesting topic when covering people in the public spotlight.
My response to Mitch was about how when working on profiles, it’s a little different. The goal is to get to know the person behind the politician. What makes that person tick and how to they operate outside of being in public? To do this, I think you have to be more friendly to the subject than in a run-of-the-mill news story where all you need is a few quotes.
But Mitch made a good point. He went on to say that he doesn’t want to put himself of another journalist in a position where they are asking a professional favor because of a friendship between the two. This is highly undesired because a situation like this would put both sides in uncomfortable situations. Can you imagine calling up someone and saying something like, “C’mon man, just do this for me this one time, I’d really like to get that information.”
Those are situations both sources and journalists want to avoid. While working on profile pieces, you get to know the sources on a little more of a “friendship” level, you should never cross the line of being more of a friend than a journalist. This didn’t happen as I was working on Mitch’s profile, but it was a reminder of how journalists always have to be on their toes in the professional world. Sometimes you have to be more of a human being than a closed off, unresponsive journalist, but you also need to be aware of sticking to the journalist title.