The following is one of several articles recapping NEFAC’s 2017 New England First Amendment Institute. Full coverage of the program can be found here.
By Nadine El-Bawab
“When you take time to build a relationship with someone . . . and you care about getting the story right, they become invested in your story . . . When you are willing to be human, people actually trust us,” said Wesley Lowery, a national reporter with The Washington Post, during the seventh annual New England First Amendment Institute.
Lowery and two other panelists drew from their professional experiences as they discussed navigating relationships with sources and provided suggestions to the institute’s 25 journalism fellows.
Lowery focused on the importance of establishing a strong relationship with short-term and long-term sources. He also spoke about the value of extending those relationships.
“There is a huge advantage of calling again on the second day and having a real conversation with them,” he said.
Lowery said he likes to “keep a lot of balls in the air,” but he also provided tips on getting more time to work on stories.
“I’ve had to train myself to not run to my editors whenever I get an idea for a story and that buys me time. If they don’t know it exists, they can’t rush me into writing it,” he said.
Eric Moskowitz, a reporter with The Boston Globe, recounted his path to becoming an investigative journalist.
“I started (as) a sportswriter. My background is mainly as a feature writer. I considered investigative reporting to be a high calling. There wasn’t a secret handshake . . . to becoming an investigative reporter . . . It was really a matter of persistence,” he said.
Moskowitz shared the three questions he thinks about when he stumbles on a possible story: Who should you be talking to for this story? How do you get them to talk? How do you get them to share the more interesting or salient things?
Moskowitz also discussed the strategies he uses when contacting sources.
“Sometimes a call can be so jarring. So sometimes I write a letter,” he said.
Moskowitz said phone calls aren’t always the best way to interviews sources.
“Face to face . . . you have more time to improvise and explain your reasoning. Find common ground, do your homework and don’t ask the hardest questions first. If you are prepared you can often find common ground,” he said.
He also suggested taking a car ride with sources when possible.
“When you are in a car with somebody there is a different sort of tension or connection and it is easier for people to share,” Moskowitz said.
Cindy Galli, a senior producer with ABC News, has been a consumer investigative reporter for 24 years.
“This is kind of the best time to be talking about sourcing. All of our news — coming from big and small outlets — is from sourcing,” Galli said. “When you approach someone, be human and be honest . . . (and) don’t let it be final, don’t turn your back on your sources. The person you brought into this, they are going to continue to live this, so don’t turn your back on them.”
Most important is listening to what the source has to say, she said.
“You don’t want to give people the impression that you are thinking of the next thing. Just listen and it is amazing what happens . . . (when you are) not writing verbatim questions,” Galli said.
Nadine is a journalism student at Northeastern University.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.