Should You Ask Reporters To See Stories In Advance?
In my decade as a media trainer, I’ve observed many changes in my profession.
When I started, a “facebook” referred to an annual book that profiled each member of Congress, a “twitter” referred to a bird (if anything at all), and a “pinterest” might have been a pun developed by a clever pin manufacturer.
In terms of working with reporters, I’ve seen two similarly big shifts over the past decade.
First, when I first started, asking a reporter to see their questions in advance of an interview was usually seen as unprofessional. That’s no longer the case; many reporters are now willing to share their questions in advance (I covered that topic here).
Second, asking reporters to see their completed stories before they ran was plain taboo, something only inexperienced hacks did. But as journalism culture continues to evolve, so too do the best practices for media relations.
So is it okay in today’s media culture to ask reporters to see their stories before they run?
Most PR professionals—particularly the experienced ones who have been in the business for many years—would likely answer that question with an emphatic “No!” And I generally agree with them, but not completely.
Here’s what I’ve seen lately. While promoting my new book, I did about 20 interviews. Two reporters and one blogger both volunteered to send me their stories before they ran so I could fact check them and request changes. I would describe the news organizations as industry journals—not major mainstream news organizations. But even the majors have done it – one Washington Post reporter was caught last year sending drafts of his stories to sources and allowing them to make edits.
I think we’re at the beginning of another shift in media relations, one which will lead to eventually being able to ask (some) reporters to preview their stories in advance. For now, I’d still advise my clients not to request stories in advance, unless they’re dealing with nontraditional smaller news organizations, bloggers who don’t adhere to traditional news standards, and perhaps some industry journals.
But keep your eye on this one. From what I’ve seen, the answer to this question may be different ten years from now.
Please leave any additional thoughts about this question in the comments section below.
I worked as a reporter (print and online) for about 16 years and can only think of a handful of times when I was asked by a source to see a story before it was published. My response always involved a discussion with my editor first. Any agreement to see a story before it was published involved reading highlights to the source by phone, typically, and checking to make sure facts were accurate and I was quoting the person accurately. This usually happened with complex stories (business beat stories, mostly) and I always made it clear this was a courtesy, not standard procedure. I did not have a problem with anyone who approached it as a matter of fact-checking, not a condition for doing the story itself. If a PR person approached me with an attitude of entitlement about it? Forget it.
I worked as a broadcast journalist in a major market until I left recently for another industry. Had had you asked me to see my notes or story before broadcast, not only would I and everyone else in the newsroom have considered you unprofessional and entitled, we probably would not have taken you seriously at any point in the future. You know that is taboo, so why would you risk putting off reporters and their supervisors? We are talking about real, trained, professional journalists who have had it ingrained in the very fiber of their being that showing anything to a source prior to running the story is a no-no. There is no legitimate reason for allowing this to happen. And frankly, if my news director (or assistant news director… or editors) found out that you asked for notes/stories in advance, they would be far less likely to assign any story that you had anything to do with (and I would be far more likely to pitch and push for a different story if they DID assign one of yours). I’m actually disgusted that you would even think of doing this so I’m going to stop now.
Thank you for your comment. Believe me, I understand your disgust and aversion to the mere thought of asking reporters for their questions in advance. I trained at the feet of Ted Koppel, who would have been as dismayed as you are by the fact that some PR people ask to see stories in advance.
But in my case, I DIDN’T ask to see the stories – reporters volunteered to send them on their own. For better or worse (I’d say worse), the rules governing journalism are changing. And just because I don’t like that doesn’t mean I’m not going to identify and discuss rather obvious trends affecting our industry.
Still, I ended up in the same place you did. I do not recommend that clients ask to see stories in advance. But as one of the other commenters on this thread said, some of his clients ignore his advice and request the stories anyway – and some of the reporters comply. Therefore, I really believe that some of your disgust should be aimed at your journalistic colleagues as much as at PR people.
Thanks for reading and leaving a thoughtful comment!