Beside the Point – Shining a light on the reporter/source relationship


Writing is a complex beast.

Sometimes you can stare at a computer for minutes…hours and nothing comes out. Sometimes you can sit down at a computer while watching television and the words just pour out.

Either way, it’s a scary proposition because you never know how many people are going to read it, so it better be good. Most of the time it’s not. It’s extremely audacious to assume that something you may want to write is good enough for one person to see, let alone thousands.


I’m gonna take a shot at something here.

I’ve spent the last 11 weeks getting to know this community again, from a different perspective. On the ground…back in reporter’s shoes, but also in editor’s shoes..and owner’s shoes.

It’s a precarious perch because I’ve been back in this town for more than 15 years now. I’ve helped raise two great children here. My wife does the raising, I do the raising of the voice.

But people don’t know me as a reporter. They know me as the guy who ran the local KFC. A guy who got to have his dream job for all of 11 months and then got plopped down in the parking lot with a box of stuff. The good thing is that it was only one box. I wasn’t there that long.

But being a reporter is in my blood. It always has been. I don’t talk about awards usually. Ask Lee the next time you see her. I can’t take curtain calls because my face gets extremely red. But you can’t see my face. So here’s where it gets really precarious for me because it goes against the grain.

I want you to know me as a reporter because I’m working very hard to give this community a different type of journalism.

I’ve won Associated Press Awards for  breaking news at a beef plant that shut down because of the largest e.coli contamination in the country’s history at that time. I’ve said this to groups before, but I interviewed murder suspects who during the interview gave damning evidence in another case the local sheriff was investigating. That was fun. I’ve won awards for human interest…a guy who actually still used – carrier pigeons.

I’ve won awards for photography catching a young girl who was exposed to chlorine gas at a family water park in triage. I take decent pictures, but anyone can with a good Canon and some anticipation. The real creativity comes from thinking outside the box.

I’ve won for an opinion piece when some boy had the audacity to hold my oldest daughter’s hand in line at school. He was all of five and really a courageous young man…with no job or future plans…hands off.

I’m not what you’re used to here in Fort Madison. I will write what needs to be written all the while balancing a much needed revenue stream. But I believe that integrity creates readership, readership attracts advertisers and supporters, and I’ll take that road 99% of the time. Not 100% because no one can predict the future and I won’t box myself in.

I’m a huge sports fan and I’m a big fan of watching kids grow and become adults. I can write sports. I will say it’s more difficult to write for digital because I’m supposed to cut it shorter. People’s attention spans are shorter especially reading on mobile devices. The toughest thing about the Pen City Current isn’t running all over the place trying not to miss anything. It’s not seeking out revenues and advertisers…it’s writing shorter stories. That’s tough.

So there it is. My “trophy case”. You know me. I will shake the bushes, and I do that. I’m sitting right now on about three stories that need to be written, but I won’t write them until sources confirm and we’re both as comfortable as we can be given the specifics. Comfort comes with relationship building and trust between source and reporter. I have that with many, some I’m still building, and some will never bear fruit. But here’s the deal…

Relationships are two-way streets and journalists and sources cultivate relationships. We both earn capital as we move through our relationships. Capital is meant to be spent. Sources spend capital when you know something and they ask you to sit on it. Reporters spend capital when we come for information. The hope on both sides is that you keep enough capital to maintain the relationship, because when you’re out of capital someone is usually done.

But never think for a second that I don’t think this community deserves to know what is going on in whatever arena – politics, education, business, etc. In the restaurant business, you keep bugs out of your place by shining bright lights in the kitchen. Journalism, if done properly, is that bright light. It keeps the place cleaner and safer. But we carry the flashlight. We’ve always carried the flashlight.

But that’s Beside the Point.






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