Rapport with sources is one of the most valuable things in the game we play. Not to imply that journalism should be anything of a game, but so the idiom goes.
The reason we are documenting one source for 7 weeks is so that we can learn to build this relationship with a source. We do more than just a standard man-on-the-street interview because when you’re taking pictures and audio of a person, it is a mildly intimate experience. They have to be comfortable with you, and trust that you won’t be publishing the picture of them just beginning to talk with their eyes closed, or just a picture of them in the most unflattering of positions.
However, there is more to the trust than that. You begin building this relationship so your source will trust you to open up to you. A good journalist doesn’t elicit good quotes. A great journalist knows how to ask the right questions and knows their source well enough to know what to say to make their source shine the brightest.
It’s not always questions that get the best quotes. Sometimes, just relating to your source gets the sound you’re looking for. Maybe it’s the anecdote from last weekend or sharing a recipe for your great aunt Marsha’s apple pie. No matter what it is, the point of making your source feel at home in your presence is absolutely essential to finding their story and discovering who they really are. You should really become friends with your source, in the best way that you can.
It’s not always easy either.
Most people recognize this iconic picture from National Geographic: The Afghan Girl.
Few words were spoken between she and her photographer. He didn’t know her name, her life story or her age. He saw her, and asked if he could photograph her. She consented. Her eyes appear in a mix of fear and rage– a rage we do not understand.
Years later, after scouring the earth, the photographer found her. He spoke with her again, completely for the first time. She had never had her picture taken before. She is now married, with a husband and children. There wasn’t much chance before for the photographer to build the relationship with her, but after her eyes reached out to people, he reached out to her; to really get her story.
I have had a less world-reknowned experience with sources. I’ve had my share of difficult ones and delightful ones. One of my favorite though, was with the POI officer here in Columbia, Latisha Stroer. She and I started out on a bad foot. The first couple of weeks she started working, I was writing the blotter. She didn’t know the ropes quite like her predecessor and had a different demeanor. She wasn’t as “fun” to work with per say. I had tried joking with her as I did with Officer Jill Wieneke, but she wasn’t the same.
The two of us got into a small tiff, and she asked me to come meet with her. We did, and I was humbled; both of us admitted we were having off days. However, she and I managed to relate in a couple of ways, and I decided to do a profile on her for my news class.
She turned out to be a jem to talk to. She’s a great mom and has a big family. She also cried in the interview. I happened to just ask the right question- about the person who she looked up to, and she said her grandmother, who had died of cancer. It was emotional, but for me it was great to know she felt comfortable enough to open up to me.
I hope to continue building these relationships across the globe. I want to know people from every nook, cranny and corner of this planet. I want to tell their stories.