The Complicated Relationship Between a Reporter and a Source

Reporter's notebook

“The reporter-source relationship is a complicated one that defies easy description. It borrows a little from the salesman-buyer relationship, the therapist-patient relationship, the police officer-witness relationship, sometimes even the growing intimacy of a friendship. We work hard to gain access and trust, and generally we avoid doing anything that stops a source from talking once she gets started.

“‘How are you now?’ I asked at the time.

“‘I’m suffering horribly . . . but I’m not suicidal,’ she said. ‘It’s a soothing thing. I don’t really want to do it. But it helps me calm down, it helps me sleep to think about the possibilities to end the suffering.’

“If I had possessed some sort of device that could peer inside her brain and pick up some biological trace amongst the billions of nerve cells and circuits that would indicate she was likely to commit suicide, would I have stopped the interview?”

— In the Tampa Bay Times, Leonora LaPeter Anton examines the suicide of one of her sources, a woman named Gretchen Molannen who was suffering from an embarrassing genital arousal disorder. Was there anything Anton could have done to prevent the death? Read more pieces about grappling with suicide.

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Photo: Roger H. Goun

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Mike Dang
Mike is the managing editor at Longreads, and the editor of The Billfold. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, Pacific Standard, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications.