Expect the unexpected if you allow sources to read articles before publication
Is it okay to allow a source you’ve interviewed to review an article before publication? When asked for a response, many journalists offer an immediate “no way!” Sure—many of us have relented in advance to such requests because the ability to run a great story hung in the balance. On the other hand, your source—even though admonished about tampering with the facts—may attempt to play editor and revise previously provided details. So yes, there are possible regrets whether you do or don’t allow pre-publication privileges.
In my past role as ethics committee chairman of the American Society of Business Publication Editors, I fielded occasional requests from members concerning pre-publication policy. In a B2B environment, there are many cases where editors have built a nice relationship with an important source. So allowing pre-publication review upon request might be okay. But even then, perhaps reviewing rights should extend only to direct quotes.
Meanwhile, as this commentary’s headline suggests, you must expect the unexpected. For example, Party X grants you an interview and agrees to whatever policy you maintain covering pre-publication review. But after sending a copy of the article to your source, you learn that the interview’s superior overruled article publication. Through experience, you become aware when corporate PR policy requires prior approval of all interviews. Even then, that might not be enough!
There was the time when a source—actually chairman of a very newsworthy company—allowed me to conduct a Q&A interview. Everything went well. After my source previewed the article, he made a few minor changes and we were ready to roll. But then, as we were reviewing final proof, came a frantic call from the interviewee. It turns out he mentioned during a board meeting that his interview would be appearing shortly. Instead of being gleeful, board members blew a gasket. That interview would be disclosing confidential information. Of course, I had no choice but to kill the article
But then there was this remarkable incident: The editor-in-chief of a magazine I supervised while VP of editorial at a B2B publisher yelled for help. Our cover story for the next issue was being slaughtered by an interviewee’s superior. Everything in it allegedly was all wrong.
I agreed to intervene. During a heated conversation where the superior refused to bend, he suddenly whined that he wasn’t even mentioned in the article—and that he was responsible for a lot of the information provided. “Hmm,” I thought. “This was clearly an oversight,” I responded. “How about if we give credit where credit is due and mention you frequently in the article?” Aha! The agreement was immediate; the article was revised and published accordingly.
So—when was the last time you rescued an article on the brink of being scratched? Share the details in the comment section below if time allows.