February 23, 2013
Dog Ear Consultants
Let’s talk about those dirty words: source review. We know the complexities involved in that phrase. For some, it’s not even an option. Sources? Reviewing your text? And … weighing in? Ludicrous. We understand that argument. For others, it’s just the way it has to be, and we get that, too. And for some, the source review process means a welcome set of eyes and opinions in an overworked, understaffed office.
Let’s forget about whether or not sending files through a source review is best practice. Let’s just talk about the best way to go about it if you need—or want—to do it.
Tip 1: If you a know a story is going to be problematic from the get-go, back yourself up with research. Find other schools that have done similar stories and lived to tell the tale. And don’t keep your plans a secret. Approach your higher-ups from the start. Let them know what you’re planning to do, why you think it’s important, and why it won’t (necessarily) result in lost donations. If they’re hesitant, ask that they let you try. Like we mentioned in an earlier post, they can always kill the story later. Oh … and have a back-up plan.
Tip 2: If a source comes back to you and says: “This whole thing is a mess. I will be absolutely livid if you print it as is.” Do the following: Go smoke a cigarette, get a massage over your lunch break, and vent to your best friend in the office next door. Then ask the source if you can chat by phone so that you might understand his or her concerns. Be nice–even if they’re wrong and you know that the quote they want to change is 100 percent accurate because you have it on record. Ask them to take you through the story line by line and tell you exactly where the problems lie. We’ve found that sometimes it’s one word or one sentence or even one paragraph that clouds the entire story for a source. If the suggested edit is a word or a phrase that doesn’t endanger your credibility or harm the story, adjust it or come up with a compromise solution. Then? Be done with it. Changing a sentence in order to run an entire piece you believe in is worth it. We once had a boss insist that an entire story had to be pulled from an issue that was just weeks away from printing. We used this approach, and not only did the story go to press, but the changes were actually minimal—just important to the person on the other end of the phone.
Tip 3: If a change doesn’t affect the story, and you frankly don’t care one way or the other, make it. This will allow you to fight for more important changes down the line. If a source review change will impact the larger story or make the school come off as defensive or just plain oblivious, don’t be afraid to explain to your source why. This is part of your job.
Tip 4: If a source kindly offers you a watered down rewrite of the very piece you just spent two months researching and writing, kindly tell them thank you, but no thanks. See Tip 2.
We think source review can be a helpful process if handled well. If a story is pulled despite your best efforts, you deserve a massage while smoking a cigarette.