I was supposed to talk on the phone today with one of my sources, who has expressed interest in collaborating with me (in addition to the first guy). But he never called, and this afternoon he sent me an email explaining why. In short, he’d been up to his neck all day with various media outlets because he was the lead investigator on a brutal capital murder case, the defendant in which is scheduled for execution very soon.
I may be a dark crime and horror fiction author, but I won’t go into details here. I don’t feel that it’s my right to do so. That’s because it was striking to me that this officer (who barely knows me) trusted me enough to vent a little about his day. And, as my collaborator has also done, he barely skimmed the surface of what he was really feeling–but it came through.
I’m trying to develop a new way of doing business wherein I develop relationships with prospective clients and regular sources. I’ve never really done this before; I’ve moved on from articles and their sources when all was said and done, so the idea of “bonding” with people was exciting. Today I’m sobered. Like a beat reporter, I’m finding that even the most professional of trust relationships involve both joy and pain, happy and sad–that the reporter/source boundary is blurred when it comes to human experience, and that sometimes you have to be a friend to your sources when they seem to need one, even if you can’t say you’re “friends.”
Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that a lot. But after seven years of work that now seems somewhat superficial, it’s a real wake-up call. I know that only time, two children, and heartache of my own can have matured me enough to develop these relationships and do the kind of work I want to do. However, I don’t think professional relationships with cops can be anything like those with, say, PR people representing companies. I might commiserate with other working mothers, for instance, or sympathize with someone just returning from a family emergency. But cops bring a certain rawness to the table, an understanding of human experience that many reporters don’t get to access because most cops don’t trust them.
So when a cop does trust a reporter? It means there is something there, at the very least, enormous responsibility. Responsibility for the reporter not to say something stupid, or to exploit or misrepresent the story (or this side of it), or to walk away claiming you can’t deal with what you’re hearing. I don’t enjoy hearing it, no, but whatever I’m feeling pales in comparison to what the victims and investigators did. So I listen and accept. And whatever comes out of it–work I do, or just someone else’s lighter heart at the end of the day–I can only hope will be good.