Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Asking all the Right People all the Wrong Questions

My budding journalism career is coming along fairly well, but I am still running into problems with sources. For example, in my recent story about virginity pledges and virginity in general on campus, I had a hard time getting a professor to reply to my questions. The one professor I did write was so upset about the questions that she notified a colleague. Her protest was then made known to my professor/editor, Dr. Robertson, who was very understanding but gave me some pointers on what to do differently next time.

First, I should have never e-mailed the professor as an introduction. Dr. Robertson calls this a "blunt instrument," which makes sense given the highly impersonal nature of e-mail exchanges. It is very easy for someone to misinterpret the tone of an e-mail, because it is virtually impossible to create a tone with plain text. Had I approached the professor in person, I might have been able to ease into the conversation and conveyed my own discomfort with the project, which might have put her at ease to speak with me.

Second, I never should have asked the hard question first. I am not entirely sure what questions I might have used to soften the blow of, "Have you ever taken a virginity pledge?" but I probably could have come up with something.

In any event, I was able to get two good student interviews. I was actually lucky in that regard, in that I just happened upon a friend of mine in the lunch room who was eating with a friend of his who I did not know. The fact that I had known at least one of my interviewees for several semesters gave me an in with both subjects, and got me some pretty interesting quotes.

I was then able to turn my limited data, along with the data from the rest of the class, into a fairly decent story. I got a good grade, and a good lesson about how I should approach sources. All in all, it was not a bad experience.


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