In the demon poodle world, you get all kinds of sources, spanning all personalities and skill sets.
There are anonymous sources, reluctant sources, cranky sources, double-crossing sources, mouthy sources and genuinely useful ones.
When I was an intern, I did some research on a corporate fraud whistleblower.
He was killed in broad daylight, after months of writing angry letters and storming the Bureau of Internal Revenue for his reward–one that never came.
It was my job to piece together his final days. What was he like? What was his life like?
Doing some deep research, I found a relative. Luckily this relative was working in a company just a few blocks from our office at the time.
When I got hold of her, she agreed to meet up for coffee halfway down the block. She seemed friendly enough, I thought, as she had sounded pleasant on the phone.
I was naive enough to think she would unfurl this whistleblower’s world and lay it at my feet.
Instead, she was huffy, demanding to know how I had found her. She was suspicious (what does the media want with this information?).
I fumbled with a few lies, until I finally admitted that a fellow journalist had given me her contact details. (I called him up and apologized the next day.)
She left me at the coffee shop, saying she will do background checks on us first before she speaks with us again. She never did.
The same principle applies to sources who –infuriatingly– never answer your calls or respond to either niceties or threats. They’re the ones who are really hard to chase.
Sometimes you catch sources at a bad time, sure.
But then again, perhaps they are cranky by nature and enjoy putting you down.
I had interviewed a presidential candidate’s aide last year.
Having chafed at pointed questions about what political analysts have identified as the candidate’s flaws, he railed at me for 20 minutes. On loudspeaker.
After I made polite sounds as he shot me underhanded insults (just you wait until they slap you with a libel lawsuit), I closed the conversation with: “Thank you, I will let you know when the story comes out.”
He yelled at me again for 10 minutes, saying if I had wanted to quote him, I should have asked. This despite formally asking for an INTERVIEW.
Apparently, there are many sources like this, according to my fellow writers. They agree to be interviewed but backtrack later on.
The worst ones, I think, are those who deliberately feed you false information. And the ones who go on record with a statement, then deny it the next day.
At least it teaches you to quadruple check everything, assuming you’ve already picked a credible source.
And make sure your batteries don’t die.
These are the people I interview in my pajamas.
Why? Because they call you at odd hours, when you’re likely to be at home, and they would rarely want to meet up with you anyway.
Plus, they make interviewing a worthy challenge by making it seem like they won’t give unless you ask the right questions.
I recently spoke to a retired official who could give me the dirty dish on a particular military issue.
He denied to be interviewed at first, until I said the magic words. Some questions apparently piqued his interest. He said: “Ok, when do we meet?”
He called me up the next day (yes, I was in my jammies), and told me he was in a “quandary.” (Seriously, who uses that word in conversation anymore?)
He said I was up to something “interesting” and that he would love to help, but he’d rather give some off-the-records instead.
Sometimes these are enough to steer you in the right direction.