Reporter’s Resource: Five Ways to Maintain Varied and Unbiased Sourcesby Debbi G McCullough January 28, 2016
To maintain credibility with your audience and editors, (and to produce the best, most reliable read) provide your readers with a good range of expert analysis and insight, opposing views, data and descriptive color from a range of stakeholders. Sourcing a range of unbiased sources for your articles takes extra analysis and work – but the effort quickly pays off. Tips and insights from the field follow:
Ensure your reporting includes different (and opposing) voices.
For an average length business news story or feature, strive for two experts offering opposite points of view and two to three stakeholders impacted by the news, preferably offering different opinions. So if you’re writing on corporate involvement in bee health, find two to three corporations investing in bee care, interview two to three beekeepers and then academics/scientists citing reliable data to explain the science behind declining bee populations. (See my earlier post on sourcing reliable experts.)
Gather in-person interviews.
The most memorable business news and features offer readers descriptive color, especially for business trend features — so go to the source of the news to find how real people are affected. When writing on the rise of domestic manufacturing in America for the Guardian, I visited the Raleigh Denim Workshop, a company producing tailor-made jeans sourced from Greensboro, North Carolina denim. Touring the factory with Victor Lytvinenko, the business owner, and actually trying on the premium jeans provided an understanding of domestic manufacturing I couldn’t possibly achieve by phone or Skype.
Capture the emotions and spirit of those you observe.
Capture the spirit of the news you report on and bring that feeling to the reader. Watching the tailors at the Raleigh Denim Workshop showed me how passionate and uplifted Americans feel when working for a re-shoring business. Writing on the Cotton of the Carolinas Project for the Guardian, another re-shoring initiative, I visited the factory making the T-shirts with Carolina-grown cotton and saw the factory owner provided an on-site vegetable garden for his workers as part of his attempts to boost morale and make domestic manufacturing more attractive for Americans. When reporting on Bayer Crop Science’s new bee care center I noticed small bee toys attached to employees’ office doors—everyone felt invested in helping save bees. This background insight stayed with me while I interviewed national experts on the topic and helped guide questions I asked.
Provide experts the opportunity to counter any criticism.
To ensure fair reporting, always approach an expert or company another source has criticized (and whose quotes you use in your article). In the Cotton of the Carolinas Project piece, the business owner mentioned the three Walmarts around Burlington buy little from his community and provide few with a living wage. I then approached the sustainability director for Walmart with this sentiment who countered that Walmart supports over 54,000 supplier jobs in North Carolina.
Question the validity of each website/data you consult.
Be skeptical of any data until you can ensure no agenda exists. Always source and hyperlink to the direct report versus using data cited elsewhere. Even the New York Times might get the numbers wrong; it’s your job to perform that final fact check to make sure the numbers are correct, so structure your deadline to give yourself that extra essential hour.
Next week’s installment: Working in branded content–writing and reporting business news stories and features sponsored by a company.