Letting sources preview articles

If you interview enough people for enough articles, you will most definitely come across those who want to see the article you’re quoting them in before it goes to print.  Staunch, hard-core journalists will tell you never let a source see an article ahead of time.  I agree that many times with hard news articles showing a source the article ahead of time is a bad idea.  But sometimes gray areas pop up.  Here are a few things to consider when someone asks to preview an article before it runs.

1. What kind of article is it?
If the article is a hard news article with various sources, letting a source preview it usually isn’t a good idea.  The sources who are bold enough to ask to preview a news article are generally those who want to make sure the article is completely slanted in their favor.  However, if the article is more of an advertorial that the source is paying for, then he or she should have a chance to read the article.  If the article falls somewhere in between and is not hard news, but it’s also not an advertorial, then that tends to go on a case-by-case basis.

2. Why does the person want to read the article?
If the source has given you lots of technical information that you don’t understand very well and they want to make sure the article is accurate, then I would say show it to them.  If they want to read the hard news article to change their quotes to sound better, then don’t show it to them. And understand that some sources will have been burned by the media before.  And especially if they are discussing a personal topic, they may be more hesitant to open up and give you information without having a chance to preview it first.  If that’s the case, I say go ahead and let them read it.  Chance are you’ll end up with more information and a better article in the long run.

3. Will they agree to your terms?
Sources who genuinely want to help you make sure you are accurate in an article will agree that they won’t ask for changes other than those for accuracy.  If they won’t agree to that, then letting them proofread hard news doesn’t work so well.

4. What does your editor say?
This is probably the most important question to consider.  When working for a publication, your editor always has the last word.  When I write advertorials, my editors tell me to let the client/source read the article first. At other points I’ve had people ask for a preview and instead of answering right away, I check with my editor first.  Different publications have different policies.  Most seem to fall along the guidelines I’ve listed above.  But, ultimately, when working on assignment checking with the editor before saying yes is best.

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