I think this is probably the most reiterated statement I’ve heard in Journalism 320 since the beginning of the semester and from various different outlets too. We’ve been lucky enough to have several professional journalists talk to us about the do’s and don’ts of beat reporting, and it would be remiss of me not to point out the repeated emphasis they all placed on developing and maintaining relationships within your beat.
Initially it seems like common sense right? If you are going to be repeatedly writing on the same circle of news, then it makes sense to have a good rapport with sources that you would consistently go back to, and other influential and important people. You need to have good relationships with your sources, and you need them to respect you.
Relationships, respect. Relationships, respect. Respect, relationships.
I’ve learned the two are codependent. A relationship needs respect in order for it to be good but if you do not put the time and effort into your work and the relationship, then you cannot expect respect.
We were lucky enough to have lunch with Lisa Thompson, who works the Court beat at the Erie Times-News and one point (among many) she made stood out to me. She said that relationships are something that grow out of trust and time, however, they are still things that need to be worked on. She emphasized the importance of constantly being present on your beat, even when things aren’t happening. She says you can’t expect to show up and have people who know nothing about you give you what you need in order to write the story you want. This isn’t exactly rocket science but I feel like it’s a simple concept that could be so easily overlooked by story-hungry journalists.
I think the concept that is most difficult for aspiring (and possibly even professional) journalists -particularly myself, is finding that ever illusive line. The one that provides the boundary for the perfect balance where you have a good relationship, but they also respect you as a journalist.
What went hand in hand with this, was the ethical issues surrounding getting coffee or lunch with your source (Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics).
Do not ever let your source pay for your lunch is what we were taught. Do not let them buy you out…but then you have to ask, can your journalistic integrity really be bought for a simple cup of coffee?
During the past weeks, one of our assignments was to have coffee with someone who we determined was going to be a constant and important source for our beat. When it came time for my coffee date, I will admit that this was one of the times I doubted myself and whether this beat is a conflict of interest for me. I know the lines are blurry and with Allegheny being such a small school it’s near impossible to be completely detached from something. But at the same time I felt the small tight-rope I was already walking on begin to shrink and give way beneath my feet. Nevertheless, my belief in my ability to cover this beat well pulled me through.
Overall I think the coffee date was successful. I was able to establish a new dynamic to our previous relationship and create a fresh light for her to see me in: not as an international student whose forms she has to sign, but as an aspiring journalist, who is dedicated to covering international life at Allegheny, and covering it well at that.
This is not to say I didn’t bump up against some instances where I felt unsure or slightly uncomfortable, but I had to remind myself that: Yes I do want to portray International life at Allegheny in a positive way, but only when that is the case. If something negative does come up, I have a duty to myself as a journalist and to the Allegheny community to report it.
I know I need to work on developing this new aspect of my relationship and I think that will come with time. Professor Hatch assures me that if I do my job right, if I am thorough and report the truth, then respect will come.