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Roles sources can play

  1. The mentor/guide

    • The ultimate source. Someone who is bright, articulate, really understands the issue and can see multiple sides of it. They can be the key to really digging in and learning, and also point you to key people to talk to, the best written material to get up to speed fast, etc. Since they have spoken about it for years, they probably have some core ideas crystallized as quotes.

  2. Informational

    • May not be articulate or colorful or pithy enough to be quoted in the piece, but helps you understand the story better.

  3. Color quotes.

    • Delivers the juicy sound bites. Expresses key ideas really well and/or colorfully, and succinctly. Right away you can spot someone who “gives good quote.”

    • Just avoid over-using the same people close to the event/issue who can be counted on for the provocative or bombastic quote. It’s a pathetic way to juice up a lame story. If you need them, you haven’t done your job well. Yet.

  4. Authority figure / scholar

  5. Confirmational

    • Early on, it’s crucial to let sources lead you to the story, not vice versa. Going to sources with your agenda before you start is the worst journalism. But …

    • At some point, you have to write. An interim step: talk to a few more people to confirm (eg, that those are widely-held opinions). Your goal is now volume: as many people as possible to confirm that you’re on target. (Unless they say you’re not. Then retrench.) Get in/out fast. If you get bogged down writing down hot quotes, you cut the volume and defeat the purpose.   

  6. Official spokesperson

    • Can be professional BSers, but sometimes very useful and provides key quotes.

  7. Media liaison for interest groups. Eg, to get the Latina perspective, homeless perspective, transgendered, rape victims, amputees, children of alcoholics, breast cancer survivors, etc. Be wary of one person speaking for whole demographic—but they usually do so pretty well. (Check.) They know their subject and can articulate it well, and fast. Also great for bringing you up to speed, and can provide needed response quote.

  8. The lame source.

    • This person may be close the event/candidate/crime/whatever, and basking in the spotlight, with little to offer. Some exaggerate their involvement and keep luring you in, but they mainly want your attention. Get out quickly.


The point: Size them up quickly.

Figure out what you can glean from them and focus on that.

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