I like to approach people for interviews the way I would a gazelle in the wild: carefully and without any sudden movements. I introduce myself and the platform I represent and make sure to explain everything I’m doing to avoid jarring the subject.
However, after seeing how effective it’s been, I’m starting to rethink my process.
A few weeks ago, I knocked on an instructor’s door.
“Hi, I’m Mid, a journalism student,” I said. “I’m writing an article for the Algonquin Times about the three-semester program the college will implement next fall and wanted to know if I could get a quote from you.”
“Well… I don’t have anything to say,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Personally, I think it’s — “.
“Oh, wait,” I said, feeling around for my recorder. “If you’re going to give me a quote, do you mind if I record it—for accuracy’s sake?”
“Absolutely not! You know what would be better,” he said more calmly. “Why don’t you go down to the dean’s office? You can tell them a very reliable and anonymous source sent you.”
“Oh, okay. I just thought it might be better coming from an instructor since —”.
“I know but I don’t like it!” he growled.
Just like that, I’d lost the gazelle, awkwardness taking its place instead.
“Of course, I completely understand,” I said flashing a fake smile. “Thank you for your time.” I closed the door behind me and walked away, fuming. I’d love to say this sort of thing doesn’t happen to me often, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
As a somewhat “social media-shy” individual, I can understand a person’s objection to having their image plastered on a public medium. What I don’t understand is why people are unable to simply decline directly and politely.
Most of all though, what I’d like to know is why people are so afraid of journalists.
With the onset of misinformation and data breach controversies that have emerged through media — like misleading 2016 polling projections and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal where 87 million American Facebook users’ data was obtained unethically — I can see how some people could be distrusting of the media.
That being said, we’re not all looking to take down major corporations or expose people’s deepest darkest secrets.
I’ve always looked at using sources as a way for journalists to legitimize their work, capture the voice of someone close to the situation and get a different perspective on things. That’s what I’m doing when asking for a quote.
As the executive producer for Global TV’s The West Block, Janet E. Silver is well-aware of the hesitation of possible subjects.
“People are still scared when it comes to the media,” she said. “There’s a lot of skepticism when it comes to what we’re doing and why and they don’t want to be the one that’s called out on something.”
Silver adds that factors like the arrival of fake media, 24-hour cable news and the rise of commentators, are helping to make consumers and potential sources weary of journalists.
“More and more people within the industry have to defend what they do. That wasn’t the case when I entered this business 20-30 years ago. Our role is to tell a story,” Silver said. “It’s a service we’re providing, and I think those that we’re serving sometimes forget that’s part of what a democracy is all about.”
Silver also reveals that the task hasn’t gotten much easier for her over the years and advises journalists not to get discouraged by roadblocks, but look for alternatives instead.
“If someone is not willing to talk, then I’ll find another source, talk to another politician or do the story another way. If you’re not going to talk about it, it doesn’t mean the story is going away. Use your resources and find a different way of doing it. Don’t let obstacles intimidate or sway you from telling the story because it still has to be told.”
And with that being said, back into the wild I go.