Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When a Source Gets the Ax

Have you ever had an editor cut someone you interviewed out of an article? If so, how do handle letting that person know?

The answer to this is a resounding, yes! It happens all the time, too often, in fact. And I hate it every time. But how do I handle it? Well, the flat-out honest answer is that sometimes, I don't always notice because I don't always read my stories after they've come out (I just quickly scan them onto my site) or they've come out soooo long after I've submitted them that I barely remember the subject matter, much less whom I interviewed. (Sad but true. In fact, I was just handed back a revision that I hadn't seen in so long I couldn't even remember what I'd written on.)

But, if, for example, I get passed the piece during the galley process and I see that a source has been cut out entirely, I often ask my editor if he or she can find a way to incorporate said source, especially if a source has really given me a lot of time. And many times, this works. If it doesn't, or if I notice that an expert isn't in the final version of the published article, I'll email him or her an apology and sincerely say that I really have no control over the editing process and that unfortunately, his quotes didn't make the piece. Which is the complete truth. I've never had anyone work himself into a tizzy over it: experts usually understand that while you try your very, very best to use them, it's not a slam-dunk...that's why it's PR, not advertising. Still though, I hate the thought that someone gave me their time, and I delivered buptkiss, so I usually tell them that they'll be my first call for my next story in which I can use them. And they are.

The other situation is, of course, when you interview a source and he or she has been entirely unhelpful. Which happened to me within the past week when an expert told me to call him, then literally had no more than two minutes to conduct the interview. Gee...thanks...I can really get great info in that timeframe! When this occurs, I wrap up the call by thanking them for their time, saying they've been helpful, and that I'll certainly do my best to try to use their advice in the piece. I think you can still be polite without letting them know that they were a complete washout. But yeah, if they really haven't made much of an effort with me, I often won't make much of an effort to track them down when the story runs. Frankly, the two-minute phone call probably won't register with them six months later when the story is published...and they won't have any idea or recollection that they were once contacted for an interview.

So how do you handle sources getting cut?


Sara Hantz said...

Totally off topic, but as you're such an Office fan I didn't think you'd mind.

Last night I saw the first in the US version of the Office. I'm a HUGE fan of the UK version. Well, I thought the US version totally rocked. It was soooooo funny. Talk about laugh outloud. I love it when I've got another TV prog to look forward to.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Yay, Sara! Welcome on the love train. :) I'm so excited, tomorrow's episode has gotten some advanced reviews and people are saying it's the best of the season!

Sara Hantz said...

Is this your first or second season?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

We're on the third! (But if you're just watching, the second season was much better than the first.)

Sara Hantz said...

When the series first started in the UK it took a while to get off the ground because of the documentary style format. I guess that could be the same for you. I think the reason I enjoyed the US one straight away is because I know and enjoy the format - so that side of things wasn't strange. Plus I sort of already knew the characters

Anonymous said...

I have had expert sources cut out of the galley of articles for national magazines twice! At the beginning of each interview I tell my sources that I cannot guarantee that his/her quotes or an attribution will be published. However, BOTH times this happened, it was with experts who gave me 250% of themselves, and the thought of having them cut made me ill. Both times, I kindly asked my editor if there was anything that could be done to get their name back in the article, then I gave them the details as to why I felt this way (ie. I had to go back to the expert three times to ask new questions that were added to my assignment after the piece had already been filed). Both times, the editors complied, and everyone was happy. Unless it is very, very critical to me that the expert be included, I don't ask. However, in these two situations, it was critical.