Blogs » According to K » Should sources be able to read a story before it's published?


Quite often, sources ask me if they can read a story I've written before it publishes. It's understandable. Nobody wants to be misrepresented or misquoted. Allowing someone else to portray your thoughts is certainly nerve-racking.

But there's a long-held, unwritten code in journalism that goes against revealing an entire draft of a story before it's published. We don't do it here at the Advocate. I've never known anyone to do it, actually, until my listserv blew up with conversation about a Washington Post writer who gave his story and a red pen to the public relations folks at the University of Texas.

As the Texas Observer reports, based on emails obtained in a public information request, the reporter, Daniel de Vise, sent two drafts of his story to UT officials, and he later revised his story based on some of their comments.

There are lots of reasons NOT to share full stories with sources before publication. Sources could seek to manipulate the entire tone or takeaway of the story. Sources could go on the offensive, "breaking" a story with a positive twist before publication. There could also be legal consequences, if a reporter is warned beforehand of disapproval and/or perceived inaccuracies.

But I was intrigued to read perspectives from other well-respected reporters from major newspapers across the country who argued sharing stories is the best way to catch errors before they're printed. They also said the practice helps build trust among sources, who are more likely to open up if they know they can have peek at how their words will be used.

I'll always call a nervous source to read back quotes and paraphrase the context around them. Usually, they appreciate that and don't try to change anything. I'll also call sources on a particularly complicated story and read facts or numbers to them, just to make sure I know what the heck I'm talking about. To me, that suffices.

What do you think?

Should sources be able to read a story before it's published? Or is that fudging the line of journalistic independence?