Get to the source

“Whatever you read online, that’s the story and I’m not saying anything more.”

That’s what I was told recently when I called a public official about a certain story.

I was shocked. This relatively high-ranking officer was encouraging, insisting really, that I should not talk to a source who actually knew my story first-hand and should instead just read another reporter’s work and go with that.

Sorry, sir. I can’t do that. What I read online could be wrong. How would I know unless I check it out? I wouldn’t know, and neither would any of my readers.

I tried to explain that I didn’t need him to give me any NEW information if he couldn’t do that, but if he could just either confirm the reports or tell me they weren’t true—

At this point, he interrupted. He called me “young lady.” He told me he was upset that what was told to “the media” already didn’t seem to satisfy me. He sounded quite a bit more than upset.

I tried one more time. I said I really couldn’t put something in the paper based on what I read online.

Another interruption. Another shutdown. Another “I’m not saying anything else,” as though he’d told me anything at all in the first place. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a source so angry, and certainly not since coming here, where the rule is to be more polite than this California girl is used to.

I decided to cut my losses, just get his name and get off the phone before he had a chance to start insulting me. Of course he didn’t want to give me that either.

Praise be, I managed to get the story from someone else in time for this week’s issue.

Now I dread having to call that other public officer ever again. I’m certainly in no hurry to be on the receiving end of that level of hostility again. But I already know I will. Just like I call my other sources several times a day if I need to, just like I tried multiple times to explain what I needed to know to this person, and just the way we all have to keep pushing, keep pressing, keep digging, to get our stories.

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