Great beat reporting results in you negotiating when to break news you already have

If a journalist covers her beat well enough, one of the more frequent challenges she’ll face is negotiating when to report something, if a source is requesting an embargo.

That was one of the main points during a session I helped lead during the annual conference of the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) about finding and reporting a niche.

It’s happened to us repeatedly with our reporting in Technical.ly and Generocity.org. Just in recent weeks, we were sitting on news of a merger between two coworking communities in our Technical.ly communities, when a (mostly true) rumor leaked out of the deal, despite a commitment we had from the leading source. We did follow that rumor with some more context and then recovered for the more formal news but the air was let out of the balloon already.

It happens too with layoffs and fundraising announcements. Due to our close sourcing, particularly at mid-level leadership positions in organizations we report on, we’ll know something is coming and use it to negotiate exclusivity or early access, only to find that news leak another way.

I get really frustrated by these experiences, particularly with the source.

Sometimes I do believe it’s a case that the source is inexperienced enough that they do just fumble the news. But it puts us in a frustrating position, one that all well-sourced journalists do face. The importance is clear: great reporters want to build the reputation for being reliable in accuracy and being first, it’s the gold standard.

The trick is when you’re involved in the community you report on or you’re well sourced in your beat, you often find out information before the news is made. You know about the company’s acquisition before the deal is done; you know someone is introducing legislation before it is; you know about a large foundation grant before the proposal is signed.

Then you’ll be challenged by your source about when that news can or should break. It is a case by case situation, but I’ve been confronted with situations when our early reporting could effectively render the news untrue. That’s challenging.