Good relationships lead to good story-telling


This world spins me around a lot - not just at the roughly 1,000 mph of physically spinning, although the thought of that gives me vertigo, but at a socially dizzying pace.

Journalism in a town of 10,000 should be relatively easy compared to metro reporting. But it’s not. It keeps me twirling. Navigating the curves of relationships and sources in this business takes not just 10-2 steering, but constant focus.

And an ever-evolving skill set.

Sometimes that means sitting over a sandwich or a beer and just talking about things a bit. Sometimes conversations take on a life of their own and we get a clearer picture of each other. My wife tells me no matter the age, she hopes we are all always learning.

Sage counsel.

But even when we learn from our mistakes, we have to learn to make it stick.

Life changes, professions change, people change, and processes change. We have to roll with them.

Local governments are moving from emailing board agendas to the media, to just posting the agendas on their website. I don’t really believe, yet, that everyone has access to websites, so I’m not sure that this transitioning fully satisfies the publishing component of open meetings laws, but I certainly have access to websites. And the agendas are posted at meeting sites.

In some cases, not all, I don’t get emails with agendas. So if the meeting isn’t something that’s in my phone calendar, I forget it happens with all the noise in my life.

So I’m missing things, like the recent hiring of Central Lee football coach Chuck Banks to the Bloodhounds' staff. Chuck is a very nice fit for head coach Derek Doherty’s program. He believes in a culture of building a program that not only the athletes buy into, but the community, as well. Banks had a rough go of it at Central Lee hampered by COVID and diminishing numbers.

But his relationship with the Fort Madison staff resulted in him being absorbed into the Hounds' system. And we're excited for that addition.

Those relationships are critical in small towns, but much harder to hang onto. That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s not. Everyone knows everyone. Stories are shared, and the inquisitive nature of beings leaves us all a little exposed.

A mayor is exposed regularly, and mostly because he or she put their name on a ballot. Councilmembers are exposed, supervisors are exposed… journalists are exposed.

I open my life to readership almost on a weekly basis. People know a lot about me, but in my six years with Pen City Current, I’ve learned quickly and profoundly, they want it that way.

I write these pieces every week to create debate, to help people who’ve just had a rough week and are looking for a good start to the next one.

I write in the hopes that these words find their way to someone who really needs them that day - looking for balance. Or someone who’s a little lost and sees in about six minutes they aren’t the only ones.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a short cliff with my fingers searching for just a crack to hang onto or maybe even climb from. And sometimes you feel like you’re on the top of the cliff enjoying the view.

I’m dancing around a little bit here to lay some foundation. I’m not an attorney, but I like lawyer shows.

Here’s the deal. Journalism is all about relationships and trust. When you’re having a casual conversation with sources, they need to know whether they’re on the record or not. They should always assume they are, but clarify when they don't want to be. After six years, most of my sources I consider friends. So trust comes into play very quickly.

When they ask you to sit on a story and you do, that’s capital being spent.

When I do sources a solid and sit on a story it’s with the intention that when the story breaks and those related to it are ready to go public, the favor of sitting on the story is repaid. It’s a gamble we measure against the reward many, many times.

And many times being the nice guy has burned me. Many times. But it also has instilled a sense of fair play with the people we tell stories about. And they like that...for the most part.

But it’s also a thing we do to build rapport and trust with all sides of news. Sometimes we win with that approach and sometimes we lose. But at the end of the day, it all figures into how the news gets released, and how stories are told.

The relationship has to grow and change and grow strong roots. And, every now and then, we test the boundaries a bit, and like making a muscle grow, you have to tear it down to build it up.

This past weekend we tore things down a bit in hopes that the relationship gets stronger. We believe it will, and in the meantime friendships grow under the surface – but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, editorial, opinion, Sunday, Chuck Vandenberg, reporting, sources, relationships, story-telling, Pen City Current


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