It's a common exchange between editors and reporters in any newsroom.
(For the sake of context, let's pretend that Bob Johnson is a key source in the story)
"Hey Bill! This story is missing balance. Bob Johnson's not in the story! I thought you spoke with Bob Johnson?"barks an editor.
"Yeah, I talked with Bob," answers Bill the reporter.
"Well, judging by your story, your readers will conclude you didn't talk to Bob Johnson," says the editor.
"I didn't put him in because he wouldn't comment..." responds the reporter.
"Maybe you should tell your readers that," answers the editor.
Maybe we should also be trying to give readers even more -- even when our sources won't comment.
Many times, reporters will take a 'no comment' as the time to terminate an interview. Don't. Continue to ask key questions. It's those key questions that you can use in your reporting . . . yes, even when your source responds with 'no comment'.
As the Orlando Sentinel's Code of Ethics recommends, the reader is usually better served if you can specify what the person is not revealing.
In 2004 in Toronto, three people were found murdered in a SUV parked at a church. All the police would say was that the deaths were related to a nearby body rub parlour. Beyond that, it was 'no comment'.
Dead end, right? Wrong.
Reporters Frank Calleja and Melissa Leong of The Toronto Star didn't stop at 'no comment'. The reporters isolated some of the key questions to show exactly what police were not commenting on.:
Sadler would not comment on the cause or a possible motive. He would also not answer questions about whether any of the victims worked at the spa, whether other spa workers were present at the time of the slayings, or how the victims were loaded into the SUV without detection.
Now that's more informative to readers than no comment. It also asks questions that readers might've asked.