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School of Journalism and New Media
University of Mississippi

How to build sources as a journalist

Posted on: January 25th, 2013 by

LekithaA car wreck on I-55, an armed robbery and a significant court case — how can one person cover them all? Lekitha Terrell, an assignment editor at WJTV in Jackson, Miss., has been in the journalism industry for eight years and says that without sources to help you find accurate information, those stories won’t make the air.   So, how can new journalists build their sources? Terrell says persistence is key.

“On a daily basis you have to contact the same people. I know it may seem like you’re getting on their nerves but it really does pay off,” says Terrell. It doesn’t take long to make your name recognizable, if you are willing to work at it, according to Terrell.

School officials, police departments, sheriff dispatchers or court workers are all potential sources for a journalist. Once a journalist proves to be trustworthy, the information will come more frequently says Terrell.

Melanie  Christopher has been an anchor or reporter in the Jackson market for more than 25 years.   She says that journalists must be two people when it comes to sources.

“You have to be compassionate, but at the same time you’re there to do your job,” says Christopher.

She says a journalist has to be friendly enough to get on a personal level with a source so he can feel comfortable and information will flow more freely.  At the same time, the journalist must maintain a professional relationship. Christopher says that all too often she will witness a new reporter trying to badger a source for information.  She says this can be effective for that one story, but more than likely, that source will not come to that reporter again with a story.

Christopher also says reporters should keep their ears open because anyone can be a source.  What she calls a “hearsay” tip can occasionally lead to a “scoop.”

Many new reporters will enter the job market in May and some may worry that their youth will work against them when it comes to building sources. Christopher says it shouldn’t be a problem.

“It’s all about how bad you want it. Your age won’t matter. A county official can tell if you have come to get the story and will treat you as professional as you act.”

Lauren McLaughlin is a senior in broadcast journalism who completed an internship at WJTV.