Lesson No. 6
Step Off That Ladder Every Now and Then
I learned some really important lessons from Ed Williams, my first editor out in the professional working world, but what youre about to read ranks right at the top. I was stunned when I learned some of the tricks he addresses below, and my reporting improved by leaps and bounds. Because I have come to realize that he is brilliant in this department, I'm not even going to touch this issue with any of my thoughts.
I got myopic in my first job. I turned to the same tired, local sources, and I too often accepted how they were framing the issue or story. It took longer than it should have, but I learned to go outside my local source network to weigh information, critically evaluate assertions and assess credibility.
I'd call around the state sometimes outside the state and I'd find the equivalent of my local source. I'd ask that mayor or police chief or environmental activist if what my sources were telling me rang true. Or I'd outline the situation and my thesis. I'd ask about their experience with similar issues. What worked? What didn't? What peripheral issues come to mind on an issue like that? How would you handle this situation? How would you avoid complications?
When I stepped outside my limited field of vision, I saw how my hometown sources were shading the truth, holding back information or misleading me in a way that would cast my story in a light most beneficial to them.
Even later, I learned to turn to "outside sources" at the outset of a story. I used them to collect background information. I got answers to questions that I would later ask my hometown sources. In interviews with hometown sources, I intentionally asked questions that I was pretty sure I already knew the anwer to. It was my way of testing the waters, judging credibility and balancing the story.