Difficult sources of information every young journalist must learn to handle

One day my colleague John Ngirachu told me “If you want to do well in this career, you must learn how to handle big egos”. One of the other requirements of this job is listening to your sources of information. You listen to what is (or not) being said in words and body language. In the process of listening you will meet very difficult characters. There are two reasons why people are difficult sources of information several reasons: one, they are afraid of journalists or two, they do not know how the media works. Once you know the reason behind their actions, you can build a long term relationship and get your stories every day.

  1. Mr/Ms know-it-all who thinks journalists are bimbos

You must not fail to add to that article that… I don’t think you can understand what I am saying it is too complicated for a person outside the engineering circles… How are you going to write about fashion and you do not know who Karen Millen is…? How can you ask such a basic question, didn’t you do your research? I don’t think that is the article you should be working on, why don’t you write about…?

Those are some of the questions I have encountered in my three years in the newsroom. It is easy to assume that Mr/Miss Know-It-All may just a proud prick with an inflated ego, but maybe s/he had a past interview with a journalist and got disappointed. Maybe that journalists watered down the interesting bits of a subject about to such basic pedestrian knowledge that Mr/Miss know-it-all was so embarrassed to be associated with such common knowledge that everybody has on the tips of their fingers.

Me in 2014, in Machakos listening to a researcher and a Public Relations Officer explain their concerns about a study to me

The worst move here would be to engage in ego-competition. Do not, and I repeat do not blow your own trumpet about your own qualifications to assure Mr/Miss Know-It-All that “you got this”. I was tempted to tell another upcoming fashion designer that I have been a tailor way before she joined Facebook and I could tell her not only who Karen Millen is but who manufactures her fabrics. Instead, make your source know that you value the knowledge they bring to the table (even when it does not exist). I told her “You are right. These things about fashion are not for every Tom, Dick and Harry. I have googled since yesterday night in preparation for this interview and I was hoping I could learn a thing or two about the subject from a household name in the industry like you. I hope I can ask for any clarification on an issue I don’t understand?” Believe me when I say, she will take it upon herself to educate you. In future Mr/Miss Know-it-All will even take it upon herself to let you know of an interesting bit if info in her circles that she thinks you may write about.

2. The skeptical send-me-the-article-before-you-go-to-press kind.

Researchers and public relations officers are especially fond of this: asking you to send the article after you finish writing so that “they can ensure you have all the facts right”. It is not only against editorial policies of many media houses, it makes you wonder whether the source knows you will deliberately not get the facts right. I understand them. Scientists, scholars and researchers have invested 10 or more years to be who they are. Dr A, Prof B are not just titles. In the quest for “hooking the reader” and simplicity to communicate jargon and hard scientific data to the common reader, journalists have communicated something totally different from what the scientist meant. Let me give you an example. A Proffesor has been researching about a drug that may cure AIDS for 15 years. He is still awaiting clinical trials of the drug and approvals and all that. Then a journalist begins his story this way “A Kenya professor has found a cure for AIDS”. Just that one word and that professor has lost all the respect in his circles and, maybe, funding and that would be the end of his career. So what do you do with Skeptical sources? Explain why you cannot send them the article. Offer to email back what he said only. Tell them that you have a lot to lose too should you report on the wring thing: you could get fired, sued and most importantly, you will lose your credibility.



EMAIL ME okeyoverah@gmail.com and cc talktoverah@gmail.com or WhatsApp me +245732324609







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