I’ve always believed that anchors should think of themselves as reporters, first and foremost. And good reporters are only as good as their sources.
Getting a cell phone number from a source or an important contact can take weeks, months even years. Those numbers can be the difference between winning a big story or trying to catch up to the competition. I like the former so much better than the latter, so I’m always building my source list.
My colleagues sometimes ask: Do you have a number for a contact?
I always want to support the team, but I have to be careful, too. Some sources have told me they do not want me to share their private number with anyone else in the newsroom. I’ll find a way to help reporters get their story, but even more importantly - I’ll give them tips on how to cultivate their own deep file of sources.
My first question: Did you ask? That sounds simple, but for younger reporters or new reporters and anchors in a market, it may take several “asks” to succeed. I know you're not going to get the police chief or overnor's number on the first day. It takes timing, persistence and most all building a trust with the source.
The default is always to get the "PR" or Press Secretary numbers. That's a good start. They can be resourceful in setting up interviews or providing background information. But everyone has those numbers.
As someone who loves chasing political stories, I work hard to get personal contact info for the candidate or elected official.
Here's why: During the 2016 presidential primary election night coverage, I wanted to make certain I’d get the first interview with a particular congressman. I called him directly to ask for it - and he agreed. But when I arrived at the location for that night's event, I discovered that the congressman's press person had set up an interview with a competing station at the same time. It got straightened out and I got the first interview.
How? I had already build a relationship directly with the source.
Dig deeper into the anchor’s role as reporter, fact-checker and source-builder at the Anchor Leadership Summit, presented by RTDNA & Loyola University Chicago, July 12-13.