How To Get the True Story Without Burning Your Sources

Question: How do you maintain your journalistic integrity without burning so many bridges that you can’t get the story?

Matt Taibbi: That is problem that every journalist has to worry about.  I think in my case I have a little bit of a luxury that other journalists don’t have, which is that I'm not covering the same people over and over and over again.  If I want to, I can cover a story and move onto a completely different topic afterwards and never have to deal with any of those people again. So I can actually do that scorch and burn thing where I descend on a whole bunch of people and write whatever I want about them, and if it’s not flattering I don’t ever have to talk to them again.  

That is not the situation that some journalists are in.  If you’re covering the White House for the Washington Post, well you have to nurture those relationships and you can’t burn people all the time. So I venture a little bit more in the direction of just saying what I think is appropriate and letting the chips fall where they may, but at the same time you have to be fair to your sources, otherwise no one will ever talk to you.  If you get a reputation of somebody who violates off-the-record privileges for instance no one is going to talk to you, so I work hard to be honest with my sources, but I don’t go out of my way to make them feel good either.

Recorded on November 22, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd

"I work hard to be honest with my sources, but I don’t go out of my way to make them feel good either," says Taibbi.

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