Is it ever okay to let a source review a story?
Most journalists are taught in school to never let a source review a story before publishing. But things seem to get a little trickier in the B2B space where content can be unfamiliar and technical, and corporations can be hesitant to speak to reporters without being assured they’ll get to review quotes.
Jay P. Goldman, editor of the American Association of School Administrators’ School Administrator magazine, has found it helpful to let sources review sections of an article on occasion.
“In my many years as a daily newspaper reporter and monthly magazine editor, I’ve found it helpful from time to time to run particular sections of an article in front of a named source to check for factual accuracy before publication,” he said. “Sometimes, the story I’m editing deals with a complicated subject so the additional steps to ensure accuracy are always appreciated by the person who may show up in the piece as a source.”
However, Goldman generally doesn’t let sources alter quotes unless doing so helps clarify the information for the reader.
Sending quotes from other people to sources is a big no as well, according to Chris Maher, managing editor SPLASH! magazine in Australia. He also agreed it’s best not to send sources the entire story.
“You shouldn’t send them a whole article unless it was an uncontentious story involving only them,” he said. “This is mainly to ensure you’ve got it right, and in B2B there is often a lot of technical information that may need to be clarified.”
While Victoria Clark, senior editor at The O&P EDGE and Amplitude magazines in the United States lets her sources review parts of stories, she doesn’t automatically accept all their changes.
“Frequent changes I get are against our house style or adds words unnecessarily,” she said. “If it is a point I think the source will likely feel strongly about, I will explain why I did not accept it.”
As Barbara Fountain, managing editor of The Health Media and New Zealand Doctor sees it, allowing sources to review a story comes down to trust.
“First, the journalist’s trust in themselves to get the story right, then the trust of the source in the journalist’s ability to get the story right and finally the editor’s trust in the journalist,” she said. “All this trust needs to be earned. Nevertheless, the starting point should be that the reporter is in control of the story.”
Fountain warned that what sources say is not necessarily the whole or correct story. While some sources might be expecting an article that merely polishes their comments, the reporter is, of course, looking to provide a fair and balanced article which might include a range of viewpoints.
It’s Fountain’s policy that she and her team do not show copy prior to publishing. Instead, if a source asks to see it, she encourages the reporter to try to uncover the source’s concerns and provide assurance, or, if necessary, take another look at the article to correct any wrong impressions or facts.
“B2B publications often have a different relationship with their readers than mainstream publications,” she said. “In our case, our readers see us as an advocate for them and their profession. This can cause problems where perhaps a source speaks far too openly, not necessarily understanding the implications of talking to a reporter. I always advise reporters coming into the publication to be careful to distinguish between sources who are used to dealing with the media and those who are not.”
In the latter case, Fountain stresses the need to be clear with the source about the reporter’s interpretation of what they are saying and, where the copy is controversial, that they understand the impact of going on the record.
“It is likely they will be surprised to learn they don’t see the story before it is published, but you must stick to your policy,” she said.
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