Cornell Alumni Magazine has a wonderful interview with the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin and Businessweek’s Peter Coy about their craft, and it’s rare that I’ve seen two journalists open up about their inspiration, motivation and, most revealingly, sourcing.
Sorkin talks about the leg work he did to get his readers an in-the-room feel for his book, Too Big To Fail:
A lot of people do return your calls, but often people don’t want to talk to you either because the information’s too sensitive or they’re not interested. In the example Peter is talking about, there was an executive who didn’t want to talk to me. Finally I get him on the phone on a Sunday afternoon and say, “Look, I understand you don’t want to talk to me, I’ve talked to your friends, your lawyer says leave you alone, I get it.” And then I laid out for him what reporting I’d done. I said, “OK, I have you in [Morgan Stanley chairman and CEO] John Mack’s house on Saturday morning at 10:30. You’re sitting in the living room on the green couch, eating a chicken wrap sandwich his wife brought you. Your son’s lacrosse game started at 1:30, you didn’t show up until 2:30, and this is what you said.” And there’s this very long pause. By the end of the call he said, “I think we should talk.” And that’s how this happens over and over. The deeper you get in the reporting, the more other people become attracted to talk to you.
The piece’s author, Beth Saulnier, did a great job getting the two to open up and parry off one another’s comments, particularly in how they break down the complexity of finance. A lot of it echoed what I learned my first year on the telecom beat, so it might be particularly useful to reporters starting out: Sometimes naiveté about a subject can be your greatest advantage.