Recently, I received a question from a starting journalist that took me back down memory lane. The question was about sourcing and how to find potential sources for a news story.
Usually, I deal with fiction questions on this site (and sometimes I do a video or two but you really don’t want to see what my hair is doing today). But this was a great question I think would apply to not only journalists but freelancers and fiction writers.
So, how do you find those pesky sources?
Depends on the story.
Really, when you talk about sources you’re talking about sides of a story and how people see the world. The saying–there’s more than one way to tell a story–applies here. As a reporter/journalist/storyteller, your job is to gather as many different and relevant viewpoints to the story as possible. Tell the full story.
And just because people have the same “title” doesn’t mean they have the same viewpoint. For example, one 5th grade teacher could think that the principal is doing a great job while another thinks the school’s leader is the worst thing to happen to education.
Because this question came from students and beginning writers of articles (i.e. folks who want to start freelancing) I’m going to break it down to two types of sources: primary and secondary.
These are the people directly impacted by the event, issue, etc. Think of this as the folks on this scene. In a cops story, it’s the people who were robbed, etc. It’s also the cops on the scene (usually the public information officer) and any witnesses. Always talk to these folks. Always.
These are the folks who are not directly impacted by the event but can add perspective. For example, the person who was robbed has a wife or husband, or mother or father. They weren’t there but they were/are around to deal with the aftermath of that experience. They are also impacted themselves because for a moment, no matter how small, their world was turned upside down because the person they loved was in harms way.
My favorite type of secondary source is the “expert” or what I like to call the guru. These are folks who study the issue or event in a broader sense. They are able to give you great stats and can talk about the big picture impact of things and even what will happen next. These sources are great to give a story a bit of depth. Sometimes these sources are national, meaning they can give a big perspective or sometimes they are local or regional, giving a more targeted point of view.
If nothing else, the guru gives the story context.
With the example of the robbery, a crime guru who can talk about how many burglaries happened in the area (that includes the type, the time of day, and whether these crimes are typically solved). A guru can also talk about how a series of burglaries can impact a neighborhood (think socially and economically).
Now, that basic crime story has legs.
How does this help the fiction writer? Point of view. A fiction writers needs to figure out point of view — what character are you using to tell a story?
If you’re fictionalizing the robbery, are you using the victim or suspect’s point of view? The investigators? A guru? Which one and why? How are they tied into this event?
Fellow writers and journalists, what other advice do you have for j-school students about sourcing?
*Shout out to the UTA Shorthorn! Hey guys!