Though journalism is a diverse industry, a consistent factor across the various genres is the need for an extensive contact book of sources. Journalists rely heavily upon their collection of contacts to construct their stories. A thorough contact book enables a journalist to be flexible in what they report about, allows them to be first to the story and provides their work with credibility. Journalists must tread a fine ethical line when obtaining and utilising their sources and must be able to differentiate between hard and soft news sources. In addition, it is important for a journalist to develop an extensive list of sources and to constantly develop diversity in their contacts.
Journalists must be conscious of their ethical responsibilities in regards to sources, namely in how they obtain their sources and how they utilise their sources. When acquiring a source, one must consider the method in which they attain the source and consider the ethical principles attached to this process. My local council, the Casey Council, posts councillor contact details such as mobile numbers and email addresses on their website in order to promote resident to councillor interaction. Councillor Geoff Ablett of the Balla Balla Ward has his details listed on the Casey City Council website and as such I am able to add his information to my contact book free of ethical constraints as I am making use of an avenue provided to me by the council. If the information was not public as in the case of Councillor Ablett, I would need to go through the relevant offices and personal assistants to gain my source as I must respect the right to privacy of public figures and go through the ethically correct avenues to obtain my source. Furthermore, once a journalist has obtained a source, they must be ethical in their usage of the source. If I were to conduct an interview with Mr Ablett, I must first be granted permission to speak to him, present questions which are reasonable and publish his responses in the correct context. These are all ethical practices related to the deployment of information from my source. If I were acting unethically, however, I would distort my piece to tell the story in the manner I wish to present it in, rather than the story Mr Ablett has told. The ethical principles of acquiring and using sources need to be considered by all journalists.
Furthermore, journalists must effectively differentiate between hard and soft news and their respective sources. Hard news focuses on conveying facts quickly and clearly and journalists must report objectively without the use of adjectives. Sources for hard news stories include public relations departments, media releases and incident reports. Due to the high quality of their facilities, my local sporting club, Cranbourne Football Netball Club, is a regular target for theft and vandalism. These stories are very newsworthy in my area as many locals follow the club and as such the contact of the president of the club, Shane Baker, is vital in getting first access to news when such events occur. On the other hand soft news, though potentially just as hard hitting, focuses more on subjective journalism, delving more into emotion and atmosphere and touching on history and context. Sources for soft news are more specific, referring more to the individuals directly involved in the story being reported. Contacts can be flexible however and my presidential contact is an example of this. In addition to the hard news I’m able to access through Mr Baker, I also have the potential to source soft news information, such as “feel-good” success stories at the club and celebratory occasions. This is an instance of a contact being able to be accessed for hard and soft news. Though the two modes of news have fundamental differences, they both require journalists to provide factual information albeit presented in different ways. Journalists must be prepared with various, genre specific sources to report hard and soft news.
Moreover, journalists must be aware of the need to amass a diverse range of sources. Having a broad spectrum of contacts, particularly within the one organisation, allows a journalist to be prepared for all situations. Arguably the most critical aspect of reporting is being first to the news as it breaks. Having a wide range of sources ensures a journalist is more likely to be able to access relevant information quickly. Furthermore, an extensive contact book allows for a journalist to research on and subsequently report multiple angles of a story, enabling a more thorough news story laden with facts and research. Additionally, if one contact for a story is unwilling or unable to supply information, having a wide contact book ensures a journalist has multiple people through which to attain information from. My former high school, Hillcrest Christian College, is so vast that having contacts for different departments is necessary in order to obtain the relevant information from the appropriate contacts. In accordance with this, I have contacts spanning across sectors including sport (Jennifer Trodden), theatrical productions (Peter Thomson) and VCE (Susie Pereira). The diversity of my contacts from Hillcrest enable me to access the specific information I require more efficiently, to present multiple perspectives and have emergency options to cover for a complication with a particular contact. The progressive compilation of varied contacts is vital for a journalist.
It is evident that contacts are a pivotal aspect of quality journalism. As journalists, we must be conscious of the ethical acquiring and usage of our sources, we must be able to separate and work with both hard and soft news and constantly develop the diversity of our contacts and consequently our skills. A quality bank of contacts provides journalists with flexibility, the opportunity to be first to the story and credibility, factors which combine to produce high quality journalism.