Amanda Lamb is a crime reporter for WRAL TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, who has been working in television for 26 years. She is also the author of eight books including true crimes and memoirs. To learn more about Amanda go to www.alambauthor.com or follow her on Twitter @alamb and Facebook, WRAL Amanda Lamb.
I can’t tell you how many times I am in the newsroom and I see a reporter in his or her cubicle glued to the computer screen. Many times, he or she is trying to find someone connected to a story we are trying to air that day. I can tell by the frazzled look on the reporter’s face that the reporter has not gotten results.
Sure, the internet has great resources to find people. Not only can you simply look up a phone number and address, but the number of public records that exist online these days is amazing to a journalist who grew up scouring phone books and consulting map books. Today, in under five minutes, I can usually find out where you live, what the heated square footage is of your house, how you vote and whether or not you’re in a relationship if you happen to have a social media profile that’s not set to private.
Don’t’ get me wrong, the internet provides great tools to learn more about a person in your story, but they are not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. For example, most of the time when we call someone and ask him or her to do an on-camera interview about a controversial story we are risking getting turned down. I would estimate you have a greater than fifty percent chance of getting rejected. And once they turn you down over the phone, you’re toast. You can’t in good faith knock on their door.
But, if you don’t call, and you just go, I believe you have a much better chance of getting the interview. This technique has worked for me so well over the years that my managers allow me to take risks, to drive a long distance for an interview that may not pan out. But many times it does pan out—the reason, because people trust you more in person. Over the phone you are a faceless, disembodied voice that is very easy to say no to.
Years ago, we went to small towns without a clue of where to find someone and simply went to the local general store and asked around.
“You all know Joe? Anyone know where he stays?”
Today, we have the added advantage of knowing in many cases exactly where to go, in addition to having the person’s number at our fingertips. I would urge young reporters when you have time to resist the urge to drop a dime, and instead, pay your potential interviewee a visit. You might be surprised by the results.
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