I was surprised by a call a few weeks ago from someone who was angry about a story we’d written after she had called and told us about a story she wanted to get out to the public.
One of her major issues seemed to be that the reporter had spoken not just to her, but to another source for the story. This was clearly a source she did not agree with and she was upset that we’d used this second source in the story. This surprised me because I’d spoken to this person on a number of occasions in the past and written stories involving her on a separate subject. I believed from this past experience that she understood that we would likely not just be speaking to her for the story.
In journalism, we try as a matter of course, if possible, to have more than one source for any given story. Whether that’s an expert, an official, or someone from the opposite side of an argument, we will try to get hold of them. If the story is from an official source to start with, sometimes that means we’ll try to get comment from someone non-official. But the fact remains, if you call us up and tell us about something, especially if it’s something interesting or controversial, you should be prepared that we are going to call someone besides you.
Going beyond the single source story is what journalists are trained to try to do. Getting another perspective on an issue or event broadens the story — most of the time, it just makes for better copy. Sometimes it’s about balance, of course, but sometimes it’s just about making a story more interesting or informative. Often, finding another source helps the reporter to better understand what they’re writing about.
There can be such a thing as false balance, where two arguments or opinions are given equal weight when one does not actually deserve it, and we try to steer clear of that as well. Doing so can come down to the judgement of the reporter or me, as editor. We also don’t usually need to talk to 20 different people for a 400 word article. The result would just be chaotic and cut up, rather than provide additional insight. That’s also a matter of judgement. If I still have outstanding questions when I read a piece I do ask the reporter to try to get hold of another source for those answers. I figure if I’m asking these questions, chances are a reader will as well.
It comes down to the fact that a news or even feature story, as opposed to a column or letter, isn’t solely about your single viewpoint.