Put your notebook down for a minute. Take your recorder and slide it next to the notebook.
If you have to, or if the moment is right for a joke, tell your source, "I’m unarmed," as veteran baseball beat reporter Bruce Miles of the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald sometimes does.
It’s one of the easiest and most tried and true ways to develop a relationship with sources on your beat, Miles and Chicago Tribune baseball writer Dave Van Dyck said in a presentation on beat writing at the APSE Great Lakes Region meeting last month.
The two spoke about building trust and relationships with players, coaches and front office members, emphasizing that an atypical conversation from the usual question-and-answer session can lead to good things for reporters, sources and most importantly, the readers.
"Shoot the breeze with them," Van Dyck said. "Ask them, ‘Hey, how is your family doing?’ "
In doing so, reporters can change how they are perceived by their sources. They’re not just someone a player doesn’t know asking questions with a notebook and recorder, they’re Dave Van Dyck or Bruce Miles.
The group also talked about what happens when those relationships are tested, specifically what to do in those murky situations and areas we come across in the course of beat reporting.
Every situation is different. Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson recently struggled with a decision about whether or not to run a story involving an incident between Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro and Bulls VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson. There are gray areas unique to each situation and this was no different.
That discussion was folded into what we see and hear on the Internet.
Everyone seemingly has a story now about something questionable they’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ustream and other forms of social media.
Is it news? What is the true value of the information? What will it do to that relationship I’ve worked on for so long? These are tough questions to answer sometimes.
But while there is no clear-cut template for each situation, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re journalists and this is part of the news-gathering process. Talk with your editor or your reporter and discuss the merits of the story. Van Dyck emphasized that reporters must have a feel for the situation at hand and weigh the effects of what they know versus what they print.
Miles also talked about interaction in his blog on the Daily Herald website. If he gets a question from a reader, he’ll go into the comments section and answer it. It’s built up trust with his readers as a respected voice on the Chicago Cubs beat.
"Interaction has made a big difference in my blog," Miles said.