The idea of completing an article on a deadline can often be intimidating for citizen journalists, especially when hard-to-get interviews are involved.
And there may be times when not all the information can be obtained by the time you need to complete your article. As a citizen journalist, you will need to learn the best way around this difficulty.
For starters, you will probably have to write a follow-up article when more information becomes available.
And you’ll have to be persistent – but not a pest – when you try to contact individuals who have the key information that you need.
There will be occasions when people simply refuse to be interviewed or to be available for an interview. That is their prerogative. No one is required to give you an interview.
But there are techniques you can use to try and get them to talk to you.
1) Always identify yourself and say that you’re working as a citizen journalist for whatever publication or outlet you are writing your story. That information gives you credibility and authenticity, and a reason for requesting an interview.
2) For those individuals who fail to return your phone call, try going to their office to see if you can catch them between meetings. Or, ask someone in the office if there is someone else you could talk to who could provide you with the needed information.
3) Try to understand the source’s position. Perhaps there is a good reason the person is not available to be interviewed. Perhaps the source has meeting after meeting and no time to respond to a phone call.
If that’s the case, let your sources know you will only take a minute of their time. Make sure you have done your research and are knowledgeable about the topic at hand so you won’t waste time asking basic questions.
In the end, it may be impossible to get the interview in the time you have allotted to complete your story. To let your readers know you tried to get all the answers to your questions, you should include a sentence, such as: “Repeated attempts to reach the city police chief were unsuccessful” or
“The mayor failed to return phone calls requesting clarification on the issue.”
Those sentences let your readers know that you realize the story may not be complete and that you tried your best to get answers to the questions they might have.
Susan Cormier is the co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists“.