In a perfect world, your sources will tell you the information you need clearly and truthfully, but in the imperfect world we live in, you might not even get your sources to speak at all. If the clock is ticking, if your word count is nowhere near where you need it to be, and if your source seems to have disappeared out of the blue, here are the steps you can take to solve your dilemma.
In person is always best
Your first instinct should always be to meet your source face to face. If you interview a person on the phone, you won’t be able to see their facial expressions. Their hints of nervousness or excitement won’t be as noticeable. If you interview a person by email, their answers will be so thought-out that they won’t be as genuine.
More often than not, you may find someone who thinks they do better when they write down their answers and then edit, but it’s the banter of an interview that really extracts the notable quotes that are often remembered.
Additionally, in cases when your deadline is only hours or a day or two away, an email interview is the most risky; sources can choose to get back to you days or even weeks later.
If someone refuses to respond, that is still a response
Did your source just get clammy? Maybe they’re refusing to speak with you any further. When the topic you’re covering is fairly sensitive, there may be times when your source just flat-out refuses to say anything. You know what? That’s OK. Because that in and of itself is a response.
If you contacted your source multiple times, and he or she did not respond, say that any request for a response was unmet. Doing this will make it clear that you put in the effort to get answers. While you’re waiting, though, I recommending giving your source at least two hours to get back to you.
Your deadline is not your source’s problem
You only have so much time in the day to get all of the information you need, but that’s not your source’s issue. If you make it your source’s issue, you more likely than not will burn a bridge — one you may need to cross in the future. Don’t pester someone so many times for a response that you make them wish you’d just go away.
To avoid having your back against the wall when it comes to your deadline, a good idea is to work on at least two articles at a time.
Always keep in mind that you are taking someone’s time out of their day
Be tactful. Be persistent. Do your best to get the interview, but always remember that some people may not be able to immediately take time out of their day to respond to your request for an interview.
In the end, you should never need to apologize for making a request to speak with someone; it is your job to ask questions, after all. I would recommend getting out of the habit of saying “Sorry for bothering you.”
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get that interview.
Michelle Goldchain is a photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. A native of Virginia, she received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Longwood University. Website: goldchainam.com. Interact on Twitter: @goldchainam