IRE Conference Blog

Getting skeptical sources to talk

By Erin Griffin

At the recent IRE Conference in San Antonio, Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Michael Isikoff of NBC shared some tips on how to get skeptical sources to talk with you. Below are some of their suggestions:

  • Try to understand why they are reluctant.
  • Throw out some information that they might feel the need to correct.
  • Tell them it might be in their self interest to help you.
  • Establish trust and ask them why they think this story would be important.
  • Set your interview up like a conversation, share with them personal information about yourself. Get them to keep talking whether it be about the story or something completely irrelevant.
  • Send them an actual letter explaining what you are doing and why.
  • Give them time. Let them see what you have published before.
  • Let them know you have people willing to protect you at your station.
  • Meet in person. Dress to fit in the scenario.
  • Know everything you can find out about your source before you start talking to them. The more they think you know the better.
  • Don't take no for an answer. Persistence does pay off.
  • After you air a story, call the source back. Ask for their opinions on how it played out, they may not like it but showing them you cared might help them talk to you again.
  • If there is a place you cover often, show up every once in a while. Make small talk with the people in that building. Yet on the other side of things, if you cannot get into that building, meet those sources outside of work where they might be more willing to chat.
  • Former disgruntled employees usually have a lot to say but you must know a lot about them before approaching them. Use LinkIn to find them. Retirees who are not upset are also great to speak to.

Erin Griffin is a student at the University of Texas

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