Advice from Calyn Shaw

The best journalists uncover a fact, or set of facts, someone is trying to keep from the public. Often your digging is going to meet some resistance. The challenge is to marshal as much evidence as possible and make your story airtight. Don’t give anyone a foothold to discredit your story or attack you. Don’t make even the smallest factual error. This may seem straightforward, but you would be surprised how a seemingly innocuous error can discredit your whole story.

When dealing with government sources you have to be willing to be a huge pain in the backside, but you have to do it without being adversarial. Most government employees receive extensive media training, which teaches them to give you as little information as possible. They are not employed to make your job easy. Don’t get frustrated when people don’t call you back or pass you on to yet another department, just keep following up.

Many sources are only going to give you the information they want you to have in order to spin you and your story. Do not become a propaganda tool. Always take the time to ask yourself, what is it they aren’t telling me? Be skeptical of everything you hear. The moment you start taking things at face value you should probably hang-up your notepad.

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