The Source Files No. 1: Recording bullets

One of the first times I interviewed someone, I sat down in an empty classroom in the middle of the California desert. The source I was interviewing was an ex-marine. He was anxious and rough around the edges and had a voice that sounded like steel grinding on cement. He talked fast too. Bullet fast.

When I asked him if he’d mind whether or not I record the interview, he said, “You better record this. You don’t know shorthand, do you?”

I recorded the interview.

Reuters publishes an excellent handbook for ethics and guidelines on the matter of developing sources called The Essentials of Reuters Sourcing. Here’s what they say about recording information:

Record the information a source gives you, either by taking notes or by printing out a hard copy of notes made on a computer, or by tape recording conversations. Reporters are encouraged to learn shorthand. Reporters should keep notes, tapes, video or other information for at least two years. Remember that it may be necessary to for you to prove the accuracy and fairness of your story in court.

If using a tape recorder, obtain the source’s permission; undisclosed taping can be illegal in some jurisdictions. If conducting an interview by phone with a broker or analyst, remember that most banks, funds, or brokerage houses routinely record incoming phone calls. Sources can check the accuracy of their quotes by replaying in-house tapes.

If you interview a source over the telephone and are writing the quotes directly onto a screen, save the results and make a printout. You should not write the story directly from the screen onto which you wrote the quotes but instead work from a copy. Otherwise you destroy evidence that could be crucial to you in a lawsuit.

Whether a telephone interview, a face-to-face where I use shorthand, or pulling bits background off the web, I follow Reuters’ rules like religion and document everything. Leave no holes.

Read more about good sourcing at the following LINK

Here’s an early profile piece I did on the ex-marine LINK

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