We’ve all been there, scampering for sources. Somehow, they usually fall into place. For me, I always over-source, reaching out to many experts at the same time to ensure I receive comments from more than one.
But what do you do when you have too many sources? Obviously, they don’t all make the cut.
This happened to me recently. I spoke to a few people and wound up not using comments from the final interview. One source had pretty much repeated everything that everyone else said, so I left it at that. I already had plenty of material to work with.
That was fine, until the source’s media team contacted me. They were disappointed that I didn’t use his comments.
Do You Have to Publish Responses from All Your Sources?
I didn’t like the “feel” of being told they were disappointed in me. After all, I was a media reporter—I didn’t work for them.
Sadly, a lot of communications folks who work privately think that reporters do work for them. I don’t mind the occasional “let us know when this posts” message, and I try to send a link whenever I can. But they don’t get to dictate which sources we use and which we don’t.
I was very clear about this in my response. I had to explain Journalism 101 style that I can’t possibly use every source I connect with on a story. I do a lot of my less-pressing interviews via email and often get multiple sources. None have ever seemed to get upset when I didn’t use their comments—we just agreed I’d reach out in the future. (And I usually do because I save all my messages!)
Should You Share Your Work Before It’s Published?
There’s another thing that these media teams, or a source, may ask you to do that’s blurring the line. Many want to see what you’ve written so they can approve it. That happens when they push out their internal content, but it’s not supposed to when working with an outside outlet. Many newspapers and media outlets specifically tell their reporters not to share the work until it’s published. That’s just how it’s done.
If you don’t use all your sources, that’s okay. Of course you appreciate a source’s time, but you don’t owe it to each one to publish everything they said. There are different reasons why sources are omitted or cut out during the editing process. It’s not personal.
And in the same vein, remember that it is okay when you are writing for an outlet—and preferred by most—that you not sure your article, or even pieces of it where the source if featured, until it’s published. I’ve had to explain to many sources that this is the norm in the industry. Some get it, some don’t. I try not to work with those who don’t. Remember, the media relations team at the university from where your source is from, for example, may not have actual reporting experience. They may not “know” how things are done, as wonderful as they may be at getting you sources.
Have a source that wants to know if you’ve represented them accurately? I get it, as some are misquoted. In that case, I’ll read back something to a source to let them check it for accuracy. This is why I do a lot of interviews via email—that way, I get things in writing (though there is room for misinterpretation there too if we aren’t careful).
I hate to see journalists beat themselves up because a PR person expects them to follow the same norms as they do with corporate communications. Many journalists are trying to be the nice guy and “do the right thing,” but our norms are different. People need to understand and accept them. Journalism is not corporate communications—we are not working for a certain institution. We are working for the free press.
If they don’t, well, there are always other sources.
What other norms do you see blurred when working with sources or their reps? Tell me about it or ask a question in the comments!