Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Show Me Your Story First

I have read about at least one instance in Singapore, where a journalist provided a political leader and newsmaker "the final edited version" of an article.

Separately, I have been told of incidents where a newsmaker explicitly requests, "Please send me a copy of your article before it is sent to print."

Depending on who the newsmaker is, a few journalists will agree to such a request.

I am personally against such acts, especially if the request comes from a political leader or a person of some influence.

To me, it is the equivalent of doubting the integrity of the journalist.

It can also lead to an intrusion and censorship of the creative work of the journalist.

In my dealings with various media - local, regional and international - I have often found that a journalist who takes great pride and has a high level of confidence in the creative work he or she produces is more likely to decline the request.

Newsmakers make such requests because they are concerned that what they have shared with a journalist will be misused or misinterpreted.

Many media owners are likewise concerned about this, since this can adversely affect the reliability and reputation of the media.

Hence, one finds editors in the newsroom, who are meant to serve as a check and balance within the media. Editors are expected to bring an objective, sharp and critical eye to the work of the journalist. Editors are often able to do so because they have themselves been journalists with many years of experience.

Editors also have at their disposal corporate counsel who can provide them legal advice on legal issues that may arise from the work of journalists. For example, libel claims. I know from personal experience that editors in Singapore and England tap this legal resource with some frequency.

It is also for this reason newsmakers have at their beck and call publicists, whose role is to help the newsmaker decide when to accept an interview request from the journalist, prepare the newsmaker for the interview, anticipate how a journalist may use the response and to manage the responses provided in a manner that the response will be responsibly used; of course, not always in this order!

Most individual newsmakers for practical reasons cannot afford such luxuries. As such, individual newsmakers should take steps to mitigate the risk of having their responses to the media misconstrued.

Now, asking the journalist to provide a copy of the article before it is published is certainly not the way to go about doing it. Consider yourself very lucky if the journalist is willing and able to do so!

In my experience, I have managed the situation in two ways.

Firstly, I ask the journalist for a right to reply.

More importantly, I ask the journalist to include a link to my blog. This enables me to react quickly and post a reply on the blog, if the published article did not convey my views in a fair manner. I am also able to make my full interview with the journalist available on my blog.

I am aware that some others find it useful to run their responses by their friends, especially those with a keen eye for detail or those with some journalism experience or legal expertise, to ensure that they have phrased the responses appropriately.

I also know of a few persons who, as a matter of principle, stop providing responses to a particular media or journalist, if they feel they have not been treated fairly by the media or journalist.

The lesson here is really simple. Don't disrespect the journalist by asking to see his creative work in advance. Learn instead to better manage the journalist and take steps to mitigate the risks you may face as a result of your dealings with the journalist.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?


Anonymous said...

Asked for right of reply? Are you kidding?

It is because there is no right of reply available to ordinary folks like you and me that we sometimes insist that the journalist show us the article before it goes to print. Nothing wrong with that.

The issue of ethics is an oxymoron in a state-controlled media.

- Rose Lin

Siew Kum Hong said...

This seems to be based on the mistaken premise that I asked for a right to review the final edited version. I didn't -- the interview was done via e-mail and I was happy to leave it at that, since I had a transcript of the Q&A. The journalist sent me the final edit for review of her own accord, perhaps because of a previous incident where I felt -- strongly -- that I had been misquoted/misrepresented by her. So I appreciated that step by her. Make of that what you will.

In my experience, most journalists will (and IMO should) be willing to let you know what you are being quoted as saying -- but they will not show you the entire piece. I'm not sure what creative work there is in editing around a quote that is supposed to come from me. I don't ask for anything else. I think that is fair.