Jane Hall Responds by Russ
March 5, 2009, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Russ | Tags: , ,

We’ve been talking about one-source stories a lot over the past several days – on the blog and among ourselves on the Observer staff – but it’s nice to have an expert chime in.

Last week, Jane Hall’s Advanced Reporting class submitted 15 profiles of advocates for our most recent issue. They all relied on one source – the subject of the profile. Unfortunately, those of us editing this week (Anna, myself and Meera) had some concerns about some of the pieces and we only ended up running a few of these “Profiles in Advocacy” – (Tracy Sherman by Arliene T. Penn; Kathie DiCesare by Alyssa Wolice; Stephen Chapman by Katie Litvin and Kira Sonberg by Frankie Soloman.)

In an earlier post, Anna explained our decision in a little more detail and suggested some ways to make the system work smoother for future collaborations with outside classes hoping to contribute to the Observer. I responded with some more discussion of the problem with one-source stories and some thoughts on when we might actually want to use a one-source item and how to make it work.

Jane Hall got back to the three of us who edited her students pieces with some thoughts on how it went and on the discussion we’ve been having here on the AmericanObserved blog. As you may be aware, Jane Hall happens to know a thing or two about good writing, media ethics and integrity, so, with her permission, here’s what she had to say:

As a longtime journalist, I agree with you–although I don’t agree that a Q. and A. is the only way to do a single-source thumbnail interview, as some suggest.

My students’ issue pieces, which will not come in until the end of the semester, will, of course, have multiple sources and interviews.  I made the decision to let these be single-source in part because, frankly, so many of them were having difficulty getting the person to be interviewed;  and this was a way-station on the way to deeper reporting on their beat.  I certainly push them to report–and that’s certainly what I did as a journalist–I definitely subscribe to “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

But I don’t agree with the idea that you can’t have a series of thumbnail sketches, clearly formatted as such, of advocates talking about their issue and why it’s important to them.   I think actually part of the problem was the tone of the pieces, which I told the students about.  (By the way, these were submitted without heavy editing–that’s what we said we were going to do to give you the opportunity to edit.)

At any rate, I’m glad that you thought several of these were good;  and it’s great for them to be published.  And, next time, as I think we would all agree, it would be much less painful for both you and my students if the people who are going to edit that week are the people who have signed  off on the idea, including art, sourcing, etc.”

As I’ve said before, we don’t want this to just be two people talking to themselves in the dark lonely Internet space – it’s supposed to be a discussion. So, do you have any thoughts on what we’ve said, or what Jane replied? Any other SOC professors who’d like to pipe up on what they think of a one-source story and when it is, and is not, appropriate to use?

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

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