Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘deadline

Journalistic Defaults

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In the course of reading, watching or listening to stories, you will come across these phrases.  Although they may sometimes sound similar and other times, sound like gibberish, they have specific legal meanings that journalists must be careful to follow.

Regarding Requesting Comment:
Did not respond to a request for comment
Did not make anyone available for comment
Did not get back to us

Declined to respond to requests for comment.
Did not immediately respond to a request for comment*
Did not respond by airtime/deadline*

*They possibly did respond later

Regarding Official Statements from Entities or Officials:
In a prepared statement (Source decided to prepare statement for mass dissemination, or respond specifically to one point/reporter. Either way, they chose to not provide the voice of a spokesperson)
Could not comment because has not received official notice/paperwork/indictment, etc.*
Could not comment because of the ongoing investigation/lawsuit, etc.*
Could not comment because of no comment policy regarding specific individuals, records or situations*
Could not comment because the terms of the settlement are confidential*
Did not comment because they have taken steps to correct the problem and choose to move forward

Did not discuss details.

*An organization may use all of these to shield itself from the need to say anything at every point in the story.

Regarding the Credibility of Source’s Statements:
Ms. X said – directly attributable (highest credibility)
A spokesperson said – reportable but no direct attribution (somewhat credible)
An unnamed source said – reportable but no attribution (lowest credibility)

Regarding What Is and Isn’t Reportable:
On the Record – attributable and reportable
On Background –  main aspects can be reported but no direct quotes
On Deep Background –  information that is not reported but confirmed by other sources to enhance reporter’s understanding of story
Off the Record – not reportable or attributable*

*A reporter may request that, rather than being off the record, a source allows information to be on background or on deep background

Regarding the Assignment of Culpability (see Credibility)
X Source (court papers, etc) accuse Mr. Y of doing or saying Z
Mr. Y allegedly (he is accused by experts, bystanders, arresting officers, etc) did or said Z
We observed Mr. Y (first person observation) doing or saying Z

Written by Interviewer

March 19, 2015 at 02:38

The Callback. Sike!

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Sometimes, it never comes.  You talk to someone and they say they can unequivocally help you.  They say they know people who can help you.  And if they can’t find anybody else, they promise they themselves will help you.  And then they don’t.  If you’re on deadline, this is the worst because you have this promise in your back pocket.  You’re assuming you’ll get what you need when you need it from this source who worked so hard to convince you that they are reliable.  They may sing their own praises all day long before they promise to help you, but not after they decide they can’t.  Afterwards, they don’t call, they don’t email, nothing.  Crickets.  They’re OK with that.  And you have to be too.

Maybe something comes up and politically, they were reminded that they were offering to speak on something way above their pay grade.  Or maybe they got cold feet or realized they weren’t the expert they thought they were.  Or maybe they just changed their mind because they remembered they hate the media and along the way decided that if they ignore you, you and their broken promise would just go away.  So what do you do?

From the beginning, you don’t believe them.  You call five other sources as soon as you hang up.  And then you call five more because you know one of them will call you back.  And you get what you need and you move on.  You forgive them, because people say a lot of things they shouldn’t say when a reporter calls and don’t say a lot of things they should say when a reporter calls.  They can’t help it.  We just have this power.

And then you forget them because you’re still on deadline.

If the source that promised to call in an hour calls in three and the story is long since done, you say thank you and hang up.  Because if they really wanted that story told and if they really wanted a voice in telling it, they would’ve called you back with something and sooner.  But if they don’t call back at all, that’s OK too because at some point in the future, they’ll have a story they desperately want told.  And you’ll be there.

Written by Interviewer

July 16, 2014 at 12:02

Write Stop Write Stop Write …

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Writing an article can be like running through the woods at night looking for notes tacked to trees. You kinda know where you’re going. And you kinda know what you’re looking for. But if you don’t get where you’re supposed to be in time with what you’re supposed to have when you get there, you’re monster food.

I do interviews, but not only audio interviews for podcasts. I also write freelance articles, like the one I’m finishing up right now for Hilton Head Monthly. I’m working with a volunteer medical clinic called “Volunteers in Medicine – Founder’s Clinic” in Oregon City, Oregon. Its mission is to provide free care for chronic conditions for the uninsured. And since I don’t have enough to do, I told them I’d help with their outreach. That led to me convincing an editor at the magazine to take an article I offered that connects the first VIM clinic on Hilton Head Island to the Founder’s Clinic; #86.

I spent a feverish week or so requesting interviews, sending off questions, receiving photos and transcribing answers. And two days ago, when I figured I had gotten everything from everybody that I was going to get, I closed my eyes and saw this huge pile of stuff sitting on top of a barrel of gunpowder wired to a ticking clock.

This is how writers see the world, by the way. Everything is a deadline, and mine is today. So why am I not beating the keys on the project? See the title of this post. Writing is so hard, that you have to take breaks. You have to have distractions. If I sat down and wrote the article straight through, I guarantee it would sound like something you’d read from a drop down HELP menu. In other words, it would be complete, but one dimensional; flat. It would read like all I did was transfer information from one medium to another. It would have no soul. Oh, and I’d be insane.

Writing an article requires the writer to play a role similar to the interviewer’s role, but fussier. The interviewer is lucky. They work with the interviewee’s words and only their words. An article, by contrast arranges history and mission, personalities and issues into something the editor feels OK passing along to readers. So that makes how stuff is arranged very important. Is it chronological? Yes. Is it order of importance? Yes. Is it first person narrative? Yes. Or no. I don’t know. And you don’t always know. Sometimes, it’s all of them. Or one of them. Or none of them. See the photo accompanying this post. And until the editor accepts it, all the work and the stress might be for nothing. Will it be accepted for publication or rejected? And if it’s rejected, will it be because it was too flowery, wordy, irrelevant or flat?

That’s stressful. But if this post is anything, it’s an example of how goofy writers can be. I mean, I’m doing more writing right now, what … as a way of relaxing? That’s crazy. Oh, look at the time. Break’s over.

Written by Interviewer

July 2, 2013 at 00:42