Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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Nov. 12, 2009

A plea for different interview sources

by Warren Zhang, Managing News Editor and Ombudsman
As much as we Blazers love to hear from our principal, Silver Chips needs to find new sources of information. In the last issue of Silver Chips, both MCPS public information representative Chris Cram and Principal Darryl Williams were quoted in multiple news stories. And they're not alone - various issues of Chips have had their share of repeated sources in their news sections.

Ombudsman Warren Zhang
Ombudsman Warren Zhang
Marshall Spatz, director of the MCPS Office of Management, Budget and Planning, has been used in numerous budget stories in issues this year and last year. News stories also tend to quote certain Blair administrators and resource teachers, particularly former social studies resource teacher George Vlasits.

Chips staffers try their hardest to vary the people they interview, but it is certainly true that our news writers like to use those who are easily reachable and knowledgeable about the stories they're writing. The fact that Spatz is in charge of several fiscal budget issues makes him a prime source for budgetary matters. Likewise, Cram's position in the MCPS Department of Public Information makes him a popular choice for interviews in stories about countywide news.

Although certain sources do lend themselves to certain stories, Silver Chips still needs to work on expanding its contacts. Spatz may be an expert in all things budgetary, but using him over and over again limits the scope and breadth of news stories about the fiscal budget. The stories themselves become repetitive and boring to read when the usual suspects keep contributing quotes. Plus, a lack of variety in our sources is an obstacle to Silver Chips' goal of providing accurate and balanced news coverage to the Blair community.

Spicing up the people interviewed in stories has the additional benefit of improving Silver Chips' relationship with the community at large. Chips staffers will be able to expand the network of experts used in the paper and serve as public relations for the newspaper instead of stalking the same valuable sources with questions left and right each issue. Principal Williams has been very nice about speaking with Chips reporters, but even he would get tired of seeing Chips writers show up in his office every week with new questions. The sources we do choose to interview would be far more likely to give us eloquent, appropriate and unique quotes when not constantly bothered by the paper.

Instead of always pestering Principal Williams for quotes, Silver Chips writers should try to speak to the administrator, teacher or staff member relevant to the story. Instead of always quoting English resource teacher Vickie Adamson about English HSA scores or final exam grades, writers could try asking a Maryland state testing official or an MCPS representative the questions.

And instead of always using the same MCPS sources, Chips writers should make more of an effort to interview experts whose names aren't Spatz or Cram, perhaps seeking out people in other departments or experts even outside of MCPS. New and different sources definitely exist within the county - the massive staff list on the MCPS Web site is a testament to that fact. Rarely does a story require one specific source, so the vast majority of Silver Chips articles can and should use different sources.

Diversifying the sources in Chips news stories isn't the easiest task for our news writers, not by a long stretch. But it's necessary and will give a breath of fresh air to the news section for all of our readers in the Blair community. Spending more time finding and contacting sources is one sacrifice Chips staffers are ready to make in order to improve the quality of the stories presented in our paper.

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