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Building face-to-face relationships with sources still key for journalists

June 28, 2012

Paul Klee of the Champaign News-Gazette and Jason Kersey of the Oklahoman discuss beat reporting. Photo by Jordan Pottorf.

By John Layton
SIU-Edwardsville

With all of the technological advances in journalism over the past few decades, there’s still one thing reporters need to do manually: build relationships.

At the Mid-America Press Institute’s “Sports Journalism: Staying on top in the digital age” seminar on Monday June 18, Dustin Dopirak of the Bloomington, Ind. Herald-Times and Jason Kersey of the Oklahoman about the importance of the relationship between sources and reporters.

The session was titled “Getting the most out of your beat.” Dopirak, who is the football and basketball beat writer covering Indiana University, and Kersey, who is on the Oklahoma University football beat, were in agreement that gaining the trust of sources through building relationships with them will always be important in journalism.

A reporter can get closer to a source just by standing out and attending as many events as possible related to their beat. Although, with the increased media coverage that comes with many higher profile beats, Kersey admitted he still did not know the answer on how to stand out among the multitudes of reporters.

Dopirak and Kersey talked about several other topics during the session, including:

  • Access. The writers talked about how there is less access to sports programs these days, especially with the bigger programs in the country. Dopirak said he cannot call the athletes at IU and he has to resort to…
  • Alternative sourcing. Dopirak and Kersey said reporters can be cut off from primary sources often. When that happens, they said it is time to get creative. Kersey said when he was covering the story about a coach at Oklahoma State, he called her high school and found a source. The two reporters said there is always someone to call for an interview.
  • Competition. Often times beat writers will encounter bloggers and writers from recruiting websites while on the beat. While Dopirak said these recruiting websites are the biggest competition on sports beats these days, he said not to worry about them too much. Keeping an eye on the big picture is more important than beating one of these websites on a commitment story, Dopirak said.
  • Technology. Since the seminar was about the “digital age,” Dopirak and Kersey touched on how Twitter and blogs have affected reporting. Since fans watch games with their laptop or smart phone in front of them, live blogging is important. The downside to this is reporters will miss certain things during games while tweeting or blogging. An upside is fans will tell reporters what kind of stories they want to see.
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