Sources are important for a variety of purposes – to get story ideas, to help find the best people to talk to for a story, and to provide essential background on a topic.

Let’s spend come time examining how reporters work with sources on a beat.


Chicago sources tipped off Chicago Tribune reporter Oscar Avila to a story on an effort by Green Bay, Wisconsin to make English the official language of the city.

Read Avila’s story, then, as a class, talk about why this story should run in the Chicago Tribune or any other Midwest paper that is not in or near Green Bay. Discuss ways in which Avila might have further broadened and “nationalized” this local story.

Read Story

Play the video clip of Avila discussing how he pitched the Wisconsin story to his editor by emphasizing why Chicago Tribune readers should care about the issue.

Look for an example of a news story in your local paper that has interest to local readers but is based elsewhere.

In a a paragraph, explain why the story is important to local readers; be as specific as possible.

Play the video clip of Avila talking about the importance of talking to many people to gain perspective on a story.

Avila discusses how he uses established sources to act as sponsors on his behalf to new sources and emphasizes the importance of repeat interviews to make reluctant sources more comfortable.

For the refugee story, Avila had to talk to the refugees two and three times to get them to trust him and open up in an interview. He also had to work through sources who had access to the refugees.

Think about the person or people who might serve as “sponsors” to a reporter who wanted to talk to you about a sensitive event or issue in your life.

Make a list of the issues and the corresponding sponsors.

Write short answers to the following questions:

  1. Avila leads the Wisconsin story with an anecdote about David Sanchez. He then return to Sanchez later in the story. Why is coming back to Sanchez in the body of the article important? What effect does it have on the story’s credibility?
  2. Avila says he organized the story to give both sides of the debate, to lay out the broader issues at stake as well as the issues specific to Green Bay. He also tried to give the reader a flavor of the city. Identify the places in the article where he did these things.

In a story about Sudanese refugees who were beat up by Chicago gang members, Avila was careful to let the sources in the story define what the event meant instead of unilaterally announcing its significance.

Read the story aloud in class with different students reading the quotes from various sources. As you listen to the viewpoints presented, try to determine whether or not perspectives are missing that you think are needed in the story.

Read Story

Play the video clip of Avila discussing the refugee story. He mentions that he plays up the irony of the gang attack on young men who nearly lost their lives in the their country’s civil war.

In small groups, identify the ways in which Avila tried to point out that irony to readers.

Denise Smith-Amos emphasizes the need to diversify sources through community organizations. But she cautions that such organizations don’t speak for all their constituents, and that reporters should meet people one-on-one to understand their perspectives.

Play the video clip of Smith-Amos.

Seek out a member of a diversity group in your community. Invite them to class and interview them as a class about their perspective on issues in the community and how those perspectives may differ from others in their diversity group.