20/20 #10 — Both sides now

Who is “the other side”? More players than you think.  

The target: Your story alleges that Smallville City Councilmember Anita Hogwilde embezzled $6,000 from the Smallville treasury. Hogwilde is the target of your exposé, and pretty clearly “the other side.

Anyone with a dog in the fight: Your story says that public school enrollment is falling, and asks whether charter schools are the reason. Everybody thinks you are writing about them: the charter school advocate, the school board, the school district administration … and any of these players who thinks the article is unfavorable to their interest is “the other side.”

Suddenly public figures: You write about graffiti on South Podunk Avenue, and take photos of Joe’s garage. Joe is in the news, his neighbors tell him about it, and he’s upset because he didn’t even know in advance.

When to call

Early. Very early. Before you turn the story in to your editor.

How to call: Three kinds of calls

The CYA call: You know that Councilmember Hogwilde is not going to talk to you. You still have to call. You document when and how many times you called and e-mailed and got no answer or no response. Then you write: “Councilmember Hogwilde did not return calls from the Daily Planet.”

Or maybe Hogwilde does answer your calls. Now what? You say: “I’m Rosie Reporter from the TC Daily Planet, and I’m working on a story about city council funds. So far, the information I have points to you embezzling $6,000. Do you have a comment on these allegations?”

The call for comment: In Casablanca, the police inspector rounded up “the usual suspects.” As a journalist, you can do no less. Call the official sources, the company spokesperson, the school principal — tell them what you are writing about and ask if they have a comment or any information you may have missed.

The courtesy call: You are writing about a school and you haven’t talked to the principal. Call her and let her know.


Have you made a tough call to “the other side”? What worked and what didn’t? What would you do differently?

Have you missed making a call to “the other side”? Why?

©2008-2009 Mary Turck