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Relentless sourcing yields story on ‘drastic’ drop in black car dealers

Arlena Sawyers' story in Automotive News on drastic drop in black auto dealers

Automotive News reporter Arlena Sawyers found getting out-of-business dealers to talk was the toughest part of doing this package on the 'drastic' drop in black-owned car dealerships.

Arlena Sawyers covers black-owned dealerships at Crain’s Automotive News and knew the recession had taken its toll on them. After the Christmas holidays, she started checking with sources to see the impact. She worked the story in between other assignments for a few months, then spent six weeks devoted to it. In the end, she produced four mini-profiles, two sidebars and a 60-inch main story that says:

“Black dealers have taken a disproportionate hit – “drastic” in the words of one minority dealer spokeswoman – in the past three years. There are 261 black-owned dealerships in the United States today, half as many as three years ago. That’s a much sharper drop than the 18 percent decline in dealerships overall.”

Today’s Tip: Keep adding sources to your files.

Arlena Sawyers, reporter, Automotive News

Arlena Sawyers

The most challenging part of doing this story was getting those dealers who were no longer in business to talk, Arlena says. Many were embroiled with legal battles with manufacturers or over real estate, she says.

To get around that, she contacted sources at the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers. She also persuaded sources who didn’t want to talk to lead her to others.

One of my former newsrooms required reporters to get out of the office and develop at least one new source each week. At an understaffed weekly, this was challenging, but also beneficial in breaking stories. Navajo Times senior reporter Marley Shebala also offered tips recently on getting out of the office.

And here are some ideas on how to get people to talk to you from Walt Bogdanich and John Fauber, winners of the Barlett & Steele Investigative Business Journalism Award.

In Basics, Featured, Retail | Lifestyle, Story ideas.

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