You know what one of the hardest things about being a freelance writer is? I mean, other than not having bored coworkers to shoot the breeze with over the top of your cubicle or bad office coffee to complain about? Not being able to stake out reluctant sources in person.
Many of the freelance assignments I’ve had in my career have required me to interview people over the phone. Some did involve in-person interviews, sure. But many didn’t. So when a potential source refused to answer the phone or return emails, what else could I do? Not much. I usually just continued to call and email them (and banged my head against my desk). Sometimes I just turned to other sources. Sometimes I yelled at my computer because clearly that would help things along. But mostly, that’s about all I could do. I was as persistent as I could possibly be, under the circumstances, but there were limits.
I recently had a hard time tracking down a source for a freelance assignment. But it was a matter of just bad timing, not deliberate evasion; we kept missing each other. Eventually we made contact. But it took a lot of time to get and complete that interview. Think how much easier it would have been if I could have just hunkered down outside her office door, with a big old Diet Coke and a magazine or a Blackberry to entertain me during the wait.
See, when you’re trying to land an interview with someone in your city or area, the options suddenly expand. You can go wait outside his office. You can leave a pleading note on her car windshield. You can flip open the phone book and call him at home. You can figure out if you know someone who knows her and would be willing to intervene on your behalf. You can arrange to run into them at the PTA meeting or the high school football game. Nothing illegal, of course. Pesky stuff, maybe. But nothing that could land you in trouble.
I remember when a city hall employee once scheduled a meeting with me and then didn’t show up for it, leaving me fuming to myself in the lobby as I waited for him to return. He never did show up, which I suspected was deliberate. So I left and went back to my office. But before I left, I left messages with his assistant, the receptionist, the media relations person and God knows who else. When I got back to my desk, I called those people again. Then I showed up again, unannounced, at his office the next day. And the next day. And yes, he finally met with me, and I got my information for my story. It would have been a lot easier on him if he’d just sucked it up and met with me in the first place, honestly. I wasn’t going to go away. Not when my paycheck depended on it.
The funny thing is…most people would tell you that I’m a very nice, fairly unassuming person. I don’t use a threatening tone of voice or intimidate people with my sheer physical presence. But when you’re a reporter, it doesn’t really matter to some people. They don’t walk to talk to you, and it doesn’t matter how great you are. Usually it’s nothing personal. But it doesn’t mean you have to let them get away with it. You just make it harder for them to avoid talking to you. Eventually most people give in, even if it’s just to get you to go away.