The benefits go beyond checking and verifying content
By Ed Cohen
I’ve known great reporters and editors over the years who never let their sources read a story before it’s posted or published.
They’re afraid that they’ll be branded a flack. Or that their source will turn their masterpiece into a puff piece. Fresh, realistic-sounding quotes may come back sounding like software documentation. Give professors the draft of a story, some editors believe, and they’ll revise it to sound like an article for an academic journal.
On many campus writing projects, source reviews are mandatory. The client paying to print and mail that viewbook or president’s report demands sign-off privileges—and should get them. But with magazines, the protocol is less clear.
When I write or edit a piece for a college or university magazine, I usually invite source review. Here’s why:
Doing source reviews this way is not capitulation; it’s more like verbal fitness training. It takes skill and stamina to satisfy source concerns yet keep the story accurate and readable. It takes diplomacy, too. Recently, a source asked me to change “third-place finish” to “third-place victory.” (I explained that victory means first place.) A more common obstacle is the source or supervisor who insists on calling things “excellent,” “innovative” or “critical” without providing examples to prove the point. Sometimes the facts exist, but the source hadn’t thought they were necessary. Or that they could go in footnotes, which magazines don’t have.
As with other kinds of fitness, the more you communicate with your sources and work collaboratively, the better you’ll get at source reviews. Don’t be afraid to give the exercise a try.
Ed Cohen is the director of marketing and communication for the National Judicial College in Nevada.
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Cover: Striking a BalanceFamily Matters
ColumnsEditor's Note: Are Your Currents Piling Up? Outlook: Why I Let Sources Read Stories Prior to Publication Talking Shop: We’re All Ducks
Advance WorkHow Well Do You Know PHIL? It’s a Wrap! Quote of Note Try a Little Tenderness Listen Up Time for a Buzzword Diet The Cold Can Be Cool, Too Show Some Love