When sources are too concerned with looking good and keeping out of trouble, the interview is often compromised. Elizabeth Rains, from Langara College, led a great, informative session about the common excuses sources often give and how to respond to them.
Often, she said, sources who start giving juicy info after declaring it’s off the record are whistle-blowers scared that they’ll get in trouble. This is always a sticky situation, since sometimes that’s the info needed the most. But, reporters can find a way around this by asking the question again in different ways once the conversation goes back on the record.
When sources ask to see the story before it’s printed, Rains said to always, always, always say no. “My editor won’t allow it” is the go-to response, but Rains took it one step further saying it would be a privacy issue to do so. I’d never thought of it this way before, but she had a great point—the other sources quoted in the article are under the impression that the story won’t be printed until a certain date. Showing it to a third party before that date violates that assumption.
This session was very interactive, unlike many of the others that I attended. We constantly shared our experiences to add to the discussion, which really helped put a few concerns into perspective for me. While I’ve never covered anything so controversial that people have attempted to retract their words, I have had many instances where sources have asked to see their quotes before the story is published.
Sometimes this is just for vanity, since no one wants to appear unintelligent in print, but Rains said it’s always best to air on the side of caution and give excuses whenever possible. There’s nothing worse than getting the perfect quote only for the source to put up a fight about printing it. Then the reporter has to decide whether it’s better to burn the source—and the bridge—or give in.
When in doubt: