When you interview a source, you have to be chummy and professional, but remember that they are not your customer or the person you are serving.
It generally is in your source’s best interest that they’re talking to you. The source could have something at stake in a number of ways: They could have something to promote (often more the case in soft journalism), they could have a message they want to get out, or they could use the publicity. On the other hand, they might just have time to kill and might find it polite to answer questions.
If it’s someone with skin in the game, I find it best not to be overt about the transactional nature of this relationship. I can often smell from a mile away that they have an angle, but by not acknowledging it, I’m setting an expectation that I have my own job and it’s the same job I always do.
What if a source backs out?
The only exception is if someone’s the subject of my story where I might be completely screwed if they back out of my story.
To provide some more background, there are (for the purposes of this explanation) two types of sources: The subject of your story and secondary sources. The type of writing I do is largely human interest meaning that I l don’t have a story without the subjects’ cooperation. If, for example, the story is Joe Blow and Joe Blow doesn’t want to be interviewed for a story, then I’m SOL. The best thing to do is ascertain as early as possible if Joe Blow is down so I don’t waste my time. Now if Joe Blow is an exceptional cupboard maker and the story is about cupboard makers, I could potentially just go to someone who’s also a cupboard maker and make the story about them.
There can be complications to this. Once, I did a short pre-interview (letting someone know you’re interested in working with them and getting some initial questions in to ensure they fit the story I’m trying to write; they often come back with a request to clear it by some PR person before they talk back to me) with a mini-golf champion. I got her agreement and the story was approved. I never heard from her again. I once did about 75% of an interview with a rug owner and then when I got back from lunch, he said he was uninterested. I pulled out my hair trying to figure out a way to get back in his good graces.
For the most part, I don’t try to say “if you do this, I will promise you that” or latch onto their…