It is said again and again how important sources are for journalists, however it was not until I began this assignment that I was able to experience this for myself. The time spent gathering contacts, starting from scratch, demonstrated to me the necessity of keeping a record of all potential sources. When working to a short deadline, a journalist will not necessarily have time to track down all key sources in a story, yet a source/quote is a vital element to presenting a substantiated, interesting story.
It did not take long for me to recognise that my perception of what actually constituted a contact needed to be updated. My idea of a contact had been moulded by television shows and books, presenting them as something of glamour and secrecy. In reality, a source can arrive in a variety of forms. They may be an expert able to clarify or explain information, a witness or person directly affected by the journalist’s topic, or even the the source of a particular story. Further, prior to this assignment I had not considered a vital element to obtaining a source- the first point of contact. While over time a professional relationship can develop, and should be nurtured, every relationship must begin somewhere. I recognise now that this can be (and typically was) as simple as picking up the phone and introducing myself, and my intentions.
This openness is an integral element of establishing a mutual trust between journalist and source, as supported by Stephen Lamble in News as it Happens where it is stated:
Journalists are seen by many as occupying positions of power. Sometimes sources will go to extraordinary lengths to carefully cultivate journalists they believe can help them or their cause (Lamble p.158).
This element of trust expands further into the ethical considerations and concerns that these relationships raise, such as honesty and accuracy in reporting and service to the public interests. Despite being largely moral as opposed to legally enforceable, a journalist’s compliance to ethics (such as those stated by the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance) can dictate their standing both within the industry and public. These ethics work to uphold the integrity of a profession “society is ambivalent about” (News as it Happens, p.65).
Only a few weeks ago I had been largely unaware of the existence of these ethics, let alone the complex overlap and conflict that such ideological guidelines can pose. This was clearly highlighted to me through Four Corners investigative piece on ‘Safari Tourism’ in Africa, whereby journalist Olivia Mokiejewski was deceptive about her motivations for attending a hunt, in order to serve the public interest of exposing the corruption rife within this industry.
Another contentious issue within journalistic ethics, specifically, is that of anonymous sources. Prior to undertaking this subject I had not considered the delicacy and often difficult moral judgement required of journalists in promising a source anonymity. These sources often hold vital information and/or connections, yet a journalist must be aware of why the source does not want to be named- is it for their own agenda, protection, or another motivation? As Lamble states:
Before agreeing to protect the identity of a source a journalist must understand [they are] making a potentially momentous undertaking (p.157).
It is the responsibility of the journalist to ensure that the information they are publishing is fair and accurate, and this is unlikely to be achieved through blind trust in a source.
My expanded knowledge and understanding of sources, and journalism as whole, notably influenced my creation of a contact book, based around Glen Waverley. Glen Waverley is a suburb in south-east Melbourne coming under the jurisdiction of Monash City Council. The population of Glen Waverley primarily consists of families (about 25 percent, according to 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics data), and retirees. This is largely a result of the prominence of schools (primary and secondary) in the area, as well as the ease of access to nearby tertiary education institutions such as Monash University and Holmesglen TAFE, enabled through the Glen Waverley train station and connected bus services. According to census data from 2011, 32.5 percent of the Glen Waverley population was enrolled in some form of educational institution.
Due to this, in my contact book I included teachers (from varying positions), principals and careers counsellors to reflect the issues and concerns that would be commonly addressed by this demographic. Similarly, I included the details for a local psychologist, specialising in child and teenager psychology, focusing on key areas such as sexual identity, mental health and pressures generated by school and family. To gain a reflection of this communities’ interests, I also contacted recreational groups and sporting clubs, such as Mount View Netball Club and Guides Victoria.
An important industry within Glen Waverley is retail. Currently, my suburb is filled with rumours of the development of a multi-level apartment complex in place of a current ‘Village Walk’ (a collection of shops) and car park. This issue has been highly contentious and a lack of clarity has defined the proposal for months. This is combined with further rumours regarding the remodelling of the main retail centre, the Glen Shopping Centre. As such, I deemed it necessary to obtain the contact details of various city council members potentially involved in the planning (such as the Engineering, Community Planning and Development, and City Planning managers). Additionally, in the interests of ensuring balance, I also acquired contacts such as franchise owners within the Glen, staff from Centre Management, and business owners along Kingsway (an area that would be significantly impacted), so as to garner a variety of perspectives and reactions brought about by these developments. This construction would also cause interruption to workers and commuters due to the removal of a large car park and (temporary) road-blocks, and as such I have included details for the traffic manager and a former Vic Roads employee in my contact book.
Another key industry in Glen Waverley is hospitality. There are countless cafes and restaurants to be found in the area, with ‘Kingsway’ acting as a key social meeting-place. A laneway lined with a multitude of western cafes and Asian restaurants, Kingsway also hosts various festivals and cultural events throughout the year, such as the annual Chinese New Year Festival. In reference to this, I included in my contact book owners and media managers of some of these businesses, as well as the events manager of the city council, to enable me to potentially cover these events in the future.
Ultimately, following the completion of this task, I now have a more in-depth understanding of the vital relationship between sources and journalists. Without relevant, credible sources, a journalist is unable to fulfil their public duty, and they risk jeopardising their professional reputation through publishing unsupported and unbalanced reports and stories. Yet, building up these contacts take significant time and effort, making a contact book an essential tool.