Sources & interviews

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:

Potential sources

  • 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)

Source management

Considerations:

  • 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.

cf. Protection of journalistic sources (ECHR 2019)

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?

Interview techniques

  • 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.

Issues

  • 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.

Resources

Guides

Whistleblowing

Exeter Observer blog

An open letter to all members of the Exeter Observer team

The situation is changing quickly. The electoral commission have proposed the cancellation of the May local elections, several universities are moving to online-only teaching and it seems likely that there will be a wave of event cancellation announcements early next week.

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Free two day news writing seminar on 14 & 21 March

Want to help hold wealth, power and influence to account in Exeter & East Devon? Get involved in a new independent public interest community journalism project!

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Next community journalism course begins 22 February 2020

Want to help hold wealth, power and influence to account in Exeter & East Devon? Get involved in a new independent public interest community journalism project!

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Exeter Observer joins Independent Community News Network

Exeter Observer's application to join the ICNN has been successful, connecting us to a network of more than a hundred similar projects across the UK.

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Exeter Observer joins BBC Local News Partnerships

Exeter Observer's application to join the BBC Local News Partnerships has been successful, granting access to the BBC News Hub and Shared Data Unit and the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

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Exeter Observer agrees regulatory framework with IMPRESS

Exeter Observer is now regulated by IMPRESS, the only Leveson-compliant PRP-recognised independent UK press monitor.

Exeter Observer blog

An open letter to all members of the Exeter Observer team

Exeter Observer logo

Free two day news writing seminar on 14 & 21 March

Exeter Observer logo

Next community journalism course begins 22 February 2020

Independent Community News Network logo

Exeter Observer joins Independent Community News Network

BBC Local News Partnerships logo

Exeter Observer joins BBC Local News Partnerships

IMPRESS logo

Exeter Observer agrees regulatory framework with IMPRESS

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