Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Introduction

It's inevitable. At some point during the day, you'll have call, e-mail or simply walk up to a person you've never met before. And then you'll have to convince them to talk to you. About something you want to talk about.

I call it The Introduction. Those crucial first few minutes of chatting up source can determine whether you'll have an informative conversation or a phone hung up on you. You almost have to psyche yourself up the way you would if you were calling a crush for the first time -- make sure to say their name right, don't sound too anxious, and for heaven's sake, don't say anything stupid.

Some things work better than others. And after a while, you develop your own approach. My tried-and-true technique (in most cases): smile. Just smile, smile, smile smile smile.

I like to put people at ease. To be the welcoming, understanding, nonjudgmental acquaintance you feel like you can tell anything to. So I introduce myself, the company I'm working for and the piece I'm working on with a smile and a warm voice. And it usually works. Sometimes it takes a minute for a subject to warm up, but I most often walk away with a good, informative conversation and having had a few chuckles with a new acquaintance.

It changes, of course, with the story or the source. I can't be buddy-buddy with a police officer dealing with a hostage situation. In those cases, I have to put some bass in my voice (because I have the tendency to sound like a 12-year-old) and make sure they can see that I'm about business. It's hit-or-miss in these instances -- sometimes officials can get annoyed with journalists. But at least they can respect the fact that you're focused on doing your job.

So my question to you, fellow journos -- what's your approach? Homegirl from next door? Information hound? Curious researcher? How do you introduce yourself? And how do your sources respond?

Posted by Veronica Marché at 5:19 AM | link

Read or Post a Comment

My approach is similar. I just try to smile and be as nonthreatening as I can to people on the street. If they don't want to talk, sometimes I'll let them go, and sometimes I'll smile more and try to put them at ease.

"Oh, you won't sound stupid," or "I think you'll be great for the story," yeah, those lines usually work. The hard part is just to get them talking. Once they start, they'll go on until you stop them.

For police, it's a fine line. Depending on who I'm speaking to, I adjust my approach. Usually, being human and friendly works regardless. I understand what they can and can't give me, they understand I have to ask anyway. It works out. Interviewing police, however, has made me ask better questions. Since they only answer what I ask, I have to make sure that I ask them pointedly what I want to know.

Posted by Blogger T Dot @ 11:53 AM, February 08, 2007 #

I soften my voice when talking to regular folks who might not have had much experience with reporters or who are dealing with a tragedy (i.e. someone close to them has just died). You try to be clear about what you're doing and put them at ease.
Elected and public officials (the mayor or county manager) are different. You stil try to be friendly but I'm much more aggressive with them because most of the times they're used to dealing with the media. But still, you try to make it more of a conversation rather than an interrogation. You don't want to get all Jack Bauer with people. Just keep it professional and keep it moving.

Posted by Blogger PopCultman @ 11:39 AM, February 09, 2007 #
<< Home

We'd Like to Know...

Our Favorites

Poynter Institute
Media News
Ask the Recruiter
About the Job
On The Media
Columbia Journalism Review
Howard Kurtz's Media Notes
Eric Deggans
E-Media Tidbits