Help! Sources are stonewalling me…


Consider yourself a real journalist. Welcome to the club.  Seriously!  But don’t take it personally.  Don’t hold it against the source.  Often, official sources will stonewall not out of malice but out of bureaucratic inertia or because their priorities don’t include returning your call.   Don’t take this personally.  Don’t react by threatening them — ever.  Respond politely.  An e-mail response that includes the following language might break them loose:

“Thanks for the reply. I’ll be following this story for a while, and I want to make sure I understand as much as possible about the subject.  If you’re able to comment in the future, please keep me in mind.”

Keep in mind: the more knowledgeable and confident your initial query is, the more likely it is that any source will respond to you.  So smartening up is the easiest way to avoid stonewalling.

For more controversial stories, you should adjust the pitch of your second go-round.  Use your skills as a writer to persuade the source that you are serious about understanding the full story.  

If the stonewalling takes the form of a denial of a records request, make sure that the denial is legitimate. If it isn’t, then file an appeal.

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