How dare they withhold information from us; their salary is paid for by us. This was the mindset that Mark Witherspoon and Chuck Baldwin suggested student (and all) journalists have when working with public officials and people in offices that should be transparent. A sense of entitlement, Baldwin said, should belong to all journalists. We have a right to certain information, and the public deserves to know it.
What reporters need to know, they said, is that there isn’t any information that you can’t get. It may take some creativity on the part of the journalist, and it may mean knowing the right people instead of trying to get access to the right documents.
Witherspoon and Baldwin provided practical tips for growing in the process of investigative journalism. The most important resource is knowing people. Cultivating relationships with helpful and important sources usually comes through beat reporting by committed reporters. Though I’m not sure if this is necessary or if it would play out well at The Pendulum, but Witherspoon said student reporters at Iowa State University are out three days a week on their beats, just talking to people and strengthening connections. I’m not sure how much small talk I could get out of town manager Mike Dula by trying to build relationships with people on my Town of Elon beat, but the idea behind it is something The Pendulum has at least been trying to do.
From the time I was hired as a senior reporter, I (along with the other senior reporters) made it a point to attend beat meetings every week, even when we thought there would be no juicy news. From attending the meetings week after week since March, I feel like I’ve established much more credibility with the aldermen and with town clerk DiAnne Enoch than if I were to only show up for meetings on liquor by the drink or other “newsworthy” topics that run in the paper. If I ever end up working on any kind of investigative article involving the town, I’m a lot more confident talking with them and asking them for information since I’ve shown them some consistency.