Questions not to ask reporters
Aug 07, 2012 | 2101 views | 0 0 comments | 62 62 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The main part of my job is to communicate with readers. I love to interview everyone and find out what is going on. I love it when my phone rings and a reader has a tip. Love it or hate it, I am glad to field feedback about stories I’ve written. It makes me feel good to know someone is reading besides my mother back home. There have been a few questions that come up frequently from sources and interviewees that I simply have to say, “No” when asked. Here are a few and the shortest explanations of why.

“Can I read this story before you publish it?”

I cannot comply with this request because as a newspaper, we cannot allow readers to control our content. To give an example, if President Richard Nixon could read copy written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we would have never had “All the President’s Men.” If an interviewee does not want a particular detail in a story, he or she may always decline to answer a question. If a person or an entity absolutely must control every detail in a story, then buy advertising. Call Selena Ward here at the Trib. As long as it fits our guidelines, we will run it verbatim. Some reporters may do this, but if they were my employee, and I found out, they would be looking for a new job. If it turns out that I have misquoted an interviewee, taken a statement out of context or made a factual error, come see me. We will run a correction.

“Don’t put that in the paper.”

This often comes up in public meetings. Chances are, if it is an irrelevant comment, I probably will leave it aside. If it is offensive and said on the record, or shows a pattern of offensive speech, then I may quote it. Think about what is told to a reporter. If you don’t want it in the paper, don’t tell me.

Remember, you can always speak off the record. This may help me understand events happening in the past, present or future. You have my word, it will not appear in the paper.

“Make me look good.”

I get this a lot. Sometimes people thank me for making them look good. I am not sure exactly what that means. I will remove pauses, ums and uhs. If a speaker mispronounces a word, I will likely spell it correctly in this newspaper. Otherwise, I only quote people as fairly and accurately as possible. I am not out to make anyone look bad. I am not a character assassin. On the flip side, I am not out to make anyone look good. I report the facts as I observe them.

“Please don’t print my police report.”

To start with, police reports do not show any guilt or innocence. They show a person was charged with a specified offense or offenses. Again, if I yield to one request, I would have to yield to all. Suddenly, the Trib would lose all credibility. Now for the “Cops” disclaimer: Suspects in police reports are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. All of our police reports are prepared by reporting law enforcement agencies. We do not write them in house. If a person really wants to stay out of police reports, my advice is do not do anything that would put you in them.

“What kind of spin will you put on this?”

This one offends me greatly. Unlike cable networks, I do not put any spin on any story. I will look for as many sources as possible from any and all sides of an issue, and report without bias. If any entity feels we are biased against it, please have representatives come see me. I will gladly write as many stories as needed to fully explain the issue.

Some advice to boards, committees, councils and commissions:

I had a heavy equipment group attend a meeting in another county. They were the most interesting part of the meeting as they gave an unsolicited sales pitch to the board. The salesman called me a few weeks later. He was angry that I reported on his pitch. Sorry, if it is said in open session, it is fair game. This goes for presenters and members of the panel. Kentucky law allows for panels to enter executive session for some very specific reasons. The reasons must be shared with the media and the public. I won’t list them.

If any reader, source or public entity has a problem with a story in The Marshall County Tribune Courier, bring it to me. If I cannot help you to your satisfaction, please call Venita Fritz. We believe we are the best news source in the county. Our goal is to continue to improve, and to be the top weekly in Kentucky. Keep coming with your tips and suggestions. On those, we can act. n
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