About the community
For my contact book I chose the city where I live and study in Germany: Darmstadt. I have worked in the online editor office of the main newspaper in Darmstadt – “Darmstädter Echo” – and I might be able to work as a freelancer once I will be back. That’s why I decided to make my contact book about important sources of a Journalist working in Darmstadt.
Darmstadt is located about 30km south of Frankfurt/Main and has around 150,000 residents. It belongs to the state Hessen, which is in the south-west of Germany. Darmstadt also has the title “Wissenschaftsstadt” (science city) because of all the universities and universities of applied sciences (Technische Hochschule, Hochschule Darmstadt, Evangelische Hochschule Darmstadt). But there are not only 41,000 students in Darmstadt, there are also more than 30 institutes which do some research for example the European Space Operations Centre (Europäisches Raumflugkontrollzentrum) and three Fraunhofer-Instituts. As a fun fact: the chemical element “Darmstadtium” is named after Darmstadt.
The mayor of Darmstadt is Jochen Bartsch who belongs to the green party (Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen). There are lots of schools in Darmstadt of all different types. Besides of the daily newspaper “Darmstädter Echo” there is also another one which is called “Darmstädter Tagblatt”. Compared to Echo the Darmstädter Tagblatt is a weekly newspaper and is for free.
For the contact book I used all relevant sources a Journalist working in Darmstadt would need. This includes the local politicians (councilors, CEO, managers, state and federal government representatives, opposition counterparts) as well as hospitals, schools (vocational, grammar etc) and church groups (protestant and catholic). Also in my contact book there are the representative of the local Chamber of Commerce (IHK), lobby groups, community groups (for example Historical club for Hessen in Darmstadt) and other institutions like employment agency (Agentur für Arbeit). I have included the different ministries that are in Hessen (state chancellery, economy, interior, finance, justice, culture, science, social, environment etc) and the fiscal authority of Darmstadt in case there are any news about the budget.
What I didn’t write in my address book are the contact details of every single member of the parliament of Hessen since I found a website online where they are sorted by alphabet and I can look them up very quick and efficient.
I have ESA (European Space Operations Centre), all the universities and Fraunhofer-Instituts in my contact book, because as mentioned Darmstadt is a famous city of science. Also I wrote in my contact book the contact details of the local media centres (Echo Medien, Radio FFH Studio Darmstadt etc.) and the main public transport companies (HEAG mobilo, RMV, Deutsche Bahn). Since the international airport of Frankfurt/Main is close nearby I also wrote down those contact details.
Darmstadt has a state theatre (Staatstheater) which stages operas, musicals, theatres and concerts. So for every local Journalist it is important to have some contacts details of this theatre as well which is why I included it in my book. I also included the most important spots clubs of Darmstadt (for example soccer cub called SV Darmstadt 98 that has games in a stadium in Darmstadt).
So I basically covered all important areas of interest that can come up in terms of Journalism in Darmstadt: politics, science, public transport, sports, entertainment, community, clubs, lobby, media, institutions, religion etc. But I am sure there are some addresses that still need to be added in the future so my address book will continue to grow and expand.
Importance of sources
There are different types of sources: People, letters, books, files, films and tapes can be sources of information. So anything that Journalists use for news are sources. It’s important for Journalists to have true and reliable facts, so the source the Journalists use should be accurate.
According to Josie Vine for Journalists “sources are everything”. In the subject “Understanding Journalism” of RMIT University she also said the students should never use an anonymous source “unless it’s worth going to jail for”.
Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance – Journalists‘ Code of Ethics says a Journalist is supposed to “aim to attribute information to its source”. If a source wants anonymity a Journalist should not agree without thinking about the motives of the source and if there is an alternative attributable source. Also the Journalist’s Code of Ethics recommends to respect confidences when agreed on them.
Eric Jensen, editor from The Saturday paper said at RMIT University sources are “fundamentally important”. “All Journalists should have background sources,” Mr Jensen said. A professional Journalist should always have at least two sources that are not related to each other.
Stephen Lamble says in his book “News as it happens” when reporting news “it is safest if you interview official sources, qualified and experienced experts, and those in authority.” Official sources can be representatives of an institution for example the spokesperson of a company or a government spokesperson. Stephen Lamble continues in his book saying it’s “extremely unwise to allow yourself to become too close personally to a source, protected or otherwise.” Mr Lamble says a journalist’s relationship with sources and contacts should be “professional and at arm’s length”. Also Journalists should be careful to not lose their objectivity and therefore becoming “an advocate instead of an impartial reporter”.
So sources are a tremendous part of creating news and there are a lot of things to consider when dealing with them which will be discussed in the next chapter.
Ethical expectations of Journalists when dealing with sources
As shown in the SBS documentary “Fine Line” from 2005 it can be hard for a Journalist to stay objective. When filming and interviewing people the Journalist spends a lot of time with sources. This might cause the thought of the source that the Journalist is on “his” side. But the Journalist should always remember that it’s his job to report whatever might be in the public interest. He should never be too close to a source nor become a tool of a source.
Journalists are not friends with sources
Sometimes it might be hard for a Journalist to find the balance of Seduction and betrayal. On the one hand the Journalist is trying to get as many information as possible from the source. This might be possible if the Journalist does some seduction and does a lot of small talk. On the other hand the Journalist is not a friend of a source! He should always keep in mind what his job is.
Journalists are not a political instrument
Especially when working with politicians the Journalist should be aware of the fact that a politician may use the Journalist to get his own message out there. He may use certain phrases knowing that this might cause a headline and pushing his own public appearance. “Journalists need to make sure they will not get used from a source to run their agenda”, Eric Jensen said to RMIT Journalism students.
Balance of sources
A good Journalist should always make sure that he balances his sources. Not only that he has at least two sources that are not related to each other. For example if a Journalist covers a story about the recent discussion about vaccination of children he would have to talk to representative groups that are pro and contra. This could include doctors, a club of worried parents, a representative of a religion, several politicians, scientists et cetera. So Journalists have to be fair and show the arguments of both (or more) sides of a story.
Different sources hard news and soft news
There are two different kinds of news: hard news and soft news. According to the online platform “britannica” hard news relate to a recent event or incident that can be important on a local, regional, national or international significance. This can include politics, economics, international relations, welfare and scientific developments. Soft news focuses more the lives of individuals and are mostly not urgent. Topics of soft news can be human-interest stories and stories about celebrities.
Since hard and soft news focus on different topics there might be different sources for the Journalist depending on which kind of news he is covering. Usually sources for hard news are experts, politicians and important official people, while sources for soft news are people who experience the news rather than make it.
A real dangerous path a Journalist can choose is if he pays for information, called chequebook Journalism. Although this is very common in USA and GB, it is not ok in Australia. Paying for information can cause trouble, because the source might tell anything – including lies! – just to get the money from the Journalist. Since it is a manipulation of the truth and makes information less free Journalist should not practise chequebook Journalism.
Another unethical situation Journalists may have to face is being offered gifts from a source. Journalists should think twice if they accept those gifts since it might come close to bribery. It also might cause wrong expectations of the source who gives the gift of how the outcome of the story might be. A Journalist should make clear that he is not on the side of anyone. The only side he is one is the side of truth.
As my essay has shown, sources are one of the most important things when it comes to Journalism. Journalists have a big responsibility to find reliable, true sources. Journalists should make sure that they act ethical correct. This means not being on any side, covering all sides and different point of views in their story and not to pay for any information they get. Journalists need to know when a source wants to use them for their own reasons and should always try to be as objective as they can. This includes whilst getting close to a source to get the information that a Journalist wants, still not come too close so everyone still knows what their role is and what to expect in this crazy little thing called Journalism.