This is a pasted discussion I participated in on a LinkedIn forum. The question isn’t mine, but I weighed in on the discussion at the end. It continues.
“My research sources for magazine articles sometimes ask if they can read the article before I submit it. How do you handle this request? I understand why they ask, but it feels a little invasive. “
Harriet Cooper • I had to interview someone suggested by the magazine I was writing for. I sent the interviewee excerpts of the paragraphs that concerned him and his quotes. He asked if I would highlight something, gave me a little more info, and since it made sense in terms of the article, I did. I did not send him the final draft. I also explained that some of the information he gave me would simply be background info for the article and not quoted.
In the months between the writing and the publishing, he started to worry about the article and wanted to see the entire article. I spoke to the editor who came back with a resounding no. I explained the policy to him and said that the final article would read very closely to what he had already seen. After a couple of emails, he was satisfied.
When the article came out, he wrote to say he was very happy with it.
Lubna Kably • When I was a journalist and covered tax technical subjects, even as I was qualified to write on tax, I generally did get quotes rechecked if the matter was sensitive/complex. If required, I also had certain paragraphs checked for accuracy by reading out the same to the contact.
It will all depend on the situation, but it is wise never to share the draft article, as you would also have quoted competing sources and this can spark off an unwarranted scene, of you made Mr XYZ look better than me, etc etc.
Further, check out if your magazine has a policy against non sharing of the draft article. Most publications do. This will enable you to cite an official reason for not sharing the draft article.
Ian Graham • I know most journalists and editors are against doing this, but I’ve never really understood why. I suppose a refusal makes sense if your aim was to trip up a politician, celeb or other professional talker. But if you’re trying to write a factual piece, especially on a subject of which you have rather limited knowledge, why not let the interviewee check it before publication? It may improve the product, and it will certainly provide you with a cast-iron defence if ever the piece turns out to be factually wrong. Also, specialists are not necessarily good communicators. If you have to polish the quotes a little, it does no harm to let them know in advance what you decided that they meant! Finally, if you want to build a relationship of trust with a source, it’s a good idea to work with them on a piece, if they want to, rather than telling them that what they are going to say in print is none of their business. Otherwise, they are less likely to be available for interview next time around. And they are certainly less likely to provide you with background documents, tip-offs and so on.
The main risks are that someone will want to add extra wordage and that the job will take you longer to finish than would otherwise have been the case. If somebody asks to read a piece, I make it quite clear that it has been written to length – i.e. if they want anything put in, something else will have to come out. That in itself discourages any time-wasters. I also point out that I have a strict deadline to meet. I insist that, if they have any suggestions, they should not change the text but should phone me by a precise time. If I do not hear from them by then, I will assume that everything is correct. If they do phone back with substantive comments, I will try to take all or some of them into account, but I reserve the right to craft the final text as I see fit.
In practice, the great majority of interviewees don’t want to see a piece before publication. Of those who do, most either never get back or send a short, often complimentary, OK. The few who do phone back almost always say something that is worth listening to.
Eva Schweitzer • I sometimes send single quotes to a source to make sure that numbers and other factual stuff is correct (or read them over the phone to them), but not the whole article. But that applies only to actual experts, not to politicians or celebrities.
I did have some odd experiences, though. I once did a story about a movie studio and I asked their press department for a statement. They demanded to read beforehand how they would be represented in the story, and I said no. So they “threatened” to retract their statement. So, you have to ask PR people for a statement to cover your behind, but you are not obliged to roll out a red carpet for them. Either they deliver it in a timely and uncomplicated matter, or they are out of luck.
Bendix Anderson • Ian Graham wrote: “I know most journalists and editors are against doing this, but I’ve never really understood why.”
I had some bad experiences: A finance company found lots of what they called “inaccuracies” in one story. For example, they wanted to be referred to as “the fastest in the business.”
Another called me up to say she was sorry but she, the PR person, had to kill my story. The one I’d already written. Because I focused on one regional vice president and the other regional vice presidents were jealous.This company was an important source and I didn’t want to poison the relationship. But the request was totally unacceptable. Better to avoid these kinds of problems…
Eva Schweitzer • Bendix, what are you doing? If a company wants to be referred to as “the fastest in the business” they should place an ad. This is not what newspaper stories are for.
Also, a PR person cannot “kill a story”. Only editors can kill stories. Tell her she is out of line, and then go ahead publish the story. She can only sue you for libel, and that is very difficult and rarely happens. No offense, but you don’t sound like a reporter to begin with.
Randy B. Hecht • There can be times when you serve the story by running quotes–or in rare cases the entire article–past the source pre-publication.
For example, I once wrote an article about steps that unmarried couples can take to protect themselves with regard to end-of-life and estate planning. I interviewed two lawyers for the piece, and at the end of the interview they asked me to send the finished article to them for factual review. They are members of the bar in a handful of US states and knew the information they’d provided was accurate in those states, but they wanted to circulate the article within their firm in case the law differed significantly in other states. They agreed, on tape, not to ask for editorial revisions of the article. They just wanted to be sure they were providing our readers with consistently sound legal counsel.
That’s a valid reason to review the article with the source. It serves the interests of the magazine and its readers, not the publicity aims of the source.
But absent a compelling reason like that, it’s poor practice and opens writers up to the kind of abuse Bendix describes above, where the writer allows himself to be manipulated by or put in the service of the source.
I’d have had a field day with the PR person who called to kill my story. I’d have congratulated her on her purchase of the magazine, reminded her of the 100% kill fee clause in my contract, and asked her how soon I could expect her check. Then I’d have run my article as it was written. Once you’ve agreed to be interviewed and I’ve gotten you on tape, you’re in unless I decide you’re not in anymore. That’s the way it works.
Joe Banks • We’ve got to get past this idea that we hide everything before publication of a story, no matter the circumstances. The exception is when we’re trying to scoop a competitor. We are now well ensconced in a time when daily reporters are expected to tweet their facts throughout the day, building up to a story that will appear on the late version of the website, then in the next morning’s print edition. And I’ve come to see that is is okay to email ONLY the portion of the story that includes the source making the inquiry. Very occassionally, the source requests a change in what they said, and if I agree, I make the change. I only do this if the story is non-controversial. If it is, I won’t send it ahead of time.