About Talking To Journalists

Journalists do like sources who talk plainly, truthfully and on the record. That’s doubtless. A trustworthy and talkative source not only makes the job easier, but more enjoyable. Journalists like to interview people as much as they like to write, after all. When I think back on my jouralism, I have fond memories of my favorite sources.

That said, this, from the always excellent Eschaton blog, is not quite how things work:

“People long said about Woodward that if you talk to him, he makes you look good, if you don’t, he makes you look bad. True of all these things, to some extent.”

Journalists don’t punish people for not talking and we don’t purposefully favor the sources that do. It’s more that sources who talk have more opportunity to get their stories out and they can fill in blanks and explain nuance. Sources who don’t talk but who are factually part of the story anyway, don’t avail themselves of that.

Which isn’t to say that if you’re approached by a reporter you should always talk. In my on-staff journalism days, a colleague and I used to joke that we should form a PR agency where we only advised people not to comment or cooperate with any story. There are a lot of ways that cooperating can go wrong, especially if you don’t have a great story to tell.

But the implication here — that Woodward punished people who didn’t help him and lionized thosed that did is, I think, wrong. If the talkers came off better, it was because they told the story, not because Woodward rewarded or punished.

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