Battered and used: why I love a journalist’s contacts book

They’re battered, faded and impenetrable.

But to the best reporters I know, they’re their most important possessions.

In fact one joked that he’d be tempted to save his above his kids if his house was on fire.

I love it when I see dog-eared contacts books on journalists’ desks.

(I saw a spike somewhere recently as well, but my lips are sealed.)

I finally ditched an ancient blue hardback A4 tome a couple of years ago when it became clear that I no longer needed the numbers of prominent Swindon politicians of the early 1990s.

But for journalists who’ve been covering a patch for any length of time, these falling-to-bits treasures are constant get-out-of-jail cards.

A reporter on the biggest paper I work with asked me recently whether I thought contacts were important to a journalist.

Someone had told him that, in an age of social media and press officers, they were an anachronism.

I soon disabused my friend of this nonsense notion.

Like those other hard-backed documents, contacts books represent reporters’ passports – offering access to people, views, insights and tip-offs that bypass official channels and corporate priorities.

And the reason they’re so well-thumbed is that they have proved their use time and time again.

I’ve written before about how to make contacts and strengthen relationships and the quote with which I finished that piece is now fast becoming one of my favourite phrases.

“Spend time with people not getting stories, and they’ll bring stories to you.”

Everyone we ever speak to is a potential contact, someone to use real human conversation to develop.

What proper use of contacts does is put the people back into our writing.

It’s satisfying in this digital age to see new reporters jotting people’s names into brand new notebooks, with empty page after empty page waiting to be filled.

But my heart soars even more when I see one that’s full to the battered brim.

The chances are its owner has seen a bit of life too.

And he or she will be a better journalist for it.

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