On Reporters & Sources

In case anyone is wondering, THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE.

The topic of journalists and reporters issuing corrections isn't often discussed. Generally, these kinds of discussions take place via email or on page 20. So, it was with great pleasure that I saw one of America's best wine reporters come out with a straight up correction and make it nice and visible too. In This Story, Lew Perdue of Wine Industry Insight made his correction regarding a story he posted on New Vine Logistics front and center. But he also delivered some interesting commentary to boot. I want to quote it:

We regret these errors and incompleteness.

Reporting is an error-fraught process made unusually difficult by
deadlines and people who would rather not volunteer information. But as
I learned as a much younger reporter covering Washington D.C. and
Richard Nixon’s legacy, stonewalling is never an excuse for failing to

The best a reporter can do in this environment is dig, press sources
and corroborate and confirm. We’re always aware that sources can be
misinformed, can deliberately mislead, or have just a part of a story,
even those who corroborate what others say.

And we are always grateful to those in the know who come forth with
information, or can tell us where we’re wrong or going astray.

Good reporting is a partnership between the reporter and those with information.

We say “thank you” to all our partners and accept all mistakes as our own.

Besides letting us know he is conscientious, Lew reminds us that even in the more gentile business of wine, there is an inherent, but usually friendly, adversarial position drawn between the reporter and those people and companies they report on. But the real take away line in Lew's commentary is this: "Good Reporting is a partnership between the reporter and those with information."

He's right.

But it leads me also to think again about how the person with information should approach inquiries by a reporter. There is a fundamental bottom line when it comes to interacting with a real reporter looking to report real news: "Do I or my client benefit from the information I know and that the reporter wants becoming public?"

That's the first question anyone interacting with a reporter must ask first. And there are really only three answers: Yes, No, and It Doesn't Matter. If the answer is "yes" or "it doesn't matter" then I believe you should give the reporter what they want. "It Doesn't Matter" is rarely the answer to the question, however. And even if the strict answer is "YES, I or my company do benefit," one must then answer the corollary: "What will be the impact on friends and colleagues of providing this information?" The answer to this question is NEVER "It doesn't matter" for the simple reason that the greatest equity any person has is their friendships and colleagues. Although providing the information to a reporter might benefit me or my company or client, it might put friends and colleagues in awkward or disadvantaged positions.

Answering the original question is more complicated than it seems. And this is why Lew and other good reporters are "always grateful to those in the know who come forth with

The best thing any person, be they a PR representative or a principle in a company, can do is make a point of developing honest and forthright relationships with the media so that when they are in a situation where they can help the reporter, they can look them in the face and tell them "I won't comment right now" and know that the reporter understands their position and respects it.

3 Responses

  1. fredfric koeppel - June 3, 2009

    a good post, Tom, with good sense. i just finished (involuntarily; i was laid-off) 22.5 years as a reporter and reviewer at a daily metropolitan newspaper. the relationship between the reporter and the subject of an interview is fraught with nuances. many people being interviewed think it’s fine to make a provocative statement or offer some crucial information, and then say, blithely, “Of course that’s off the record.” I always told people not to tell me anything off the record, because then, while writing the story and then seeing it in print, I would know that it was not complete, that information I now knew could not be printed because the subject of an interview did not take the process seriously. and such issues certainly affect the relationship between reporters and PR people, who, of course, only want to put the best appearance on whatever or whoever they are touting.

  2. Kathy - June 9, 2009

    “What will be the impact on friends and colleagues of providing this information?” The answer to this question is ‘NEVER'”
    So, your position is to never talk to reporters?
    That makes it difficult for clients.
    As a “real reporter” I know that the client should know that talking to me is talking on the record. If I/he/she asks to change to not for attribution (and very rarely off the record), then I abide by the rules. And I know the difference between talking to a victim (for example) and talking to someone who should know better.
    On the record, I wonder when Lew Perdue will pay me the $15,0000+ he still owes.

  3. ranjan - July 23, 2009

    This is fantastic…..
    Pr Jobs

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