A guide to help potential contributors develop their skills.
If you are considering contributing to Exeter Observer please see our contributors guide.
More contributor guides:
- News writing
- What is news?
- Objectivity, neutrality, impartiality & balance
- Multimedia collateral & copyright
- Feature writing
- Research resources
- Local government transparency & information access rights
- Data protection & media law
- Digital information and communications security
- Professional colleagues/collaborators/contacts
- Academics/experts, university departments/institutes
- Personal contacts, people with lived experience
- Bloggers/social media posters
- Audiences/readers (via public call-outs inc. #journorequest)
- Local authorities and wholly-owned subsidiaries - elected members/representatives, officers inc. designated spokespeople e.g. Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, Exeter City Group, Royal Albert Memorial Museum
- Other public bodies - elected representatives, officers inc. designated spokespeople e.g. Met Office, Devon & Cornwall Police & Crime Commissioner, Devon & Cornwall Police, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Devon Partnership NHS Trust, NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, Highways Agency SW, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs SW, Environment Agency SW
- Other publicly-funded organisations - employees inc. designated spokespeople e.g. Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Healthwatch Devon, University of Exeter, Exeter College, Exeter Culture, Kaleider
- Third sector organisations, often partly or wholly publicly-funded - employees inc. designated spokespeople e.g. Devon Communities Foundation, Devon Communities Together, CoLab Exeter
- Private sector organisations, sometimes partly publicly-funded and/or acting in partnership with public bodies - elected members/representatives, employees inc. designated spokespeople e.g. South West Water (Pennon Group), Stagecoach SW, Chambers of Commerce, Exeter International Airport, InExeter/Exeter Business Improvement District, Exeter City Futures, Exeter Community Energy
- Private sector organisations, entirely privately funded - board members, managers, employees inc. designated spokespeople e.g. EDF Energy, Persimmon Homes SW
- Voluntary inc. campaigning organisations - steering group/board members, facilitators, members, spokespeople e.g. Exeter Cycling Campaign, Exeter Music & Sound Forum, Food Exeter, Open Data Institute Devon
- Private sector public relations, communications and marketing agencies acting on behalf of others organisations
- Political parties, politicians
- Whistleblowers, document leaks.
NB this is not an exhaustive list!
cf. Media Protocol for Portfolio Holders and Scrutiny Chairs (ECC Constitution, June 2019)
- Approaches & communications inc. social media, phone, IM/chat, email/letter, face to face
- Explanation/clarification of circumstances/intentions & agreement over basis (inc. right to reply)
- Anonymity and confidentiality inc. on/off record, Chatham House rule (aka on background), attribution (of quotes/opinions), briefings, protection of documents
- Principle - anonymity only for those who need it, never for those who don’t?
- There’s no such thing as retroactive off the record, so always make it clear you are a journalist at the outset
- Preparation & questions - value of comprehensive research, advantage in already having good idea of (most) answers (if possible)
- Verification & corroboration (identity & information) esp. online, secondary sources, triangulation
- Importance of security - online encryption, meetings in public places.
Q: How rigorous should the pursuit of a source be?
Q: Is this a personal choice or do individual approaches affect others communicating under the same masthead when they make contact with the same people later?
- Introductory chat to put subject at ease - professionally courteous not personally confrontational!
- Lay out purpose and length of interview as well as where material will be published (to which audience)
- Prepare questions as list of topics, not of carefully-worded questions
- Organise into natural conversational progression if possible
- Start with unchallenging questions (provided enough time is available)
- Know what the story needs and pursue those answers (without obstructing possibility of discovering unexpected information)
- Don’t save key questions until the end (in case time runs out or subject clams up)
- Keep things on track, but don’t fall over need to stick to script
- Listen more than talk, even when rapport suggests more typical conversational turn-taking, don’t fill gaps!
- Ask open-ended questions (5W+H, explain etc.) without yes/no etc. answers to get richer responses
- Ask questions whose answers you already know to test whether responses are truthful
- Don’t ask questions whose answer you should already know from simple public domain background research
- Ask for verification/explanation/clarification/comment
- Don’t send questions in advance to professional gate-keepers (at most agree general sense of topics) or if recording video (prepared responses present unnaturally)
- Only write questions when seeking written answers (may be unavoidable with e.g. local government officers)
- Always record audio and keep recording safe (may be needed to substantiate legal defence)
- Only make notes when necessary or to aid the interview (e.g. confirm spellings, capture follow-up question/research topic/idea), otherwise focus on conversation with subject
- Ask for clarification if not enough material in first answer (repeat back your understanding of answer to check) … but don’t accept deletion of previous answer - any new material is in addition to existing material
- Ask same question in different ways, but don’t ask more than one question at a time
- Ask if there’s anything else subject would like to add
- Ask if it’s OK to follow up with any further questions, get email/phone if not already
- Ask if the subject can direct you to corroborating/relevant information/documents or sources
- Check it’s OK to follow up to request access to any information/documents that may have been mentioned.
- Ethics inc. journalist’s responsibility to determine public interest and appropriate way to proceed, duty of care, importance of honesty, children (and vulnerable people)
- Source motivation - personal grudge, political advantage, intent to mislead/compromise/discredit journalist/publication?
- Source value - (un)reliable (in)credible (un)believable NB beware if anonymity is gratuitous condition
- Pre-interview conditions agreement? Possible benefits inc. value of information, risks inc. limiting scope of story
- Pre-publication review/approval? Possible benefits inc. accuracy check, risks inc. edit demand esp. quotes, or belated use refusal
- If quotes need confirmation, allow review of quotes alone and/or consider option of indirect quote/reported speech
- Payment? Quid pro quo? Two-way mutually-beneficial information exchange?
- Dangers of getting too close, losing objectivity, becoming advocate
- Principle: without fear or favour.
- Ethical Ground Rules for Handling Sources (Ethical Journalism Network)
- The Perfect Source (Ethical Journalism Network)
- Interviewing a source (Journalist’s Resource)
- Safeguarding journalists and their sources (NUJ).
- NUJ Code of Conduct
- Editor’s Code of Practice used by IPSO
- IMPRESS Standards Code inc. guidance notes
- BBC Editorial Guidelines
- Associated Press News Values and Principles
- IPSO children’s rights guide
- NSPCC children’s rights guide.