Most newspapers have a policy against having sources review content before publication for several reasons:
1) It's impractical to be able to do this for everyone featured in a daily newspaper under our tight deadlines and get a paper out to our readers every morning. And, if we make an exception for one, how do we fairly respond to others who want the same privilege?
2) It might takes hours, days or weeks of back and forth with some sources to get final approval for what they said to a reporter during an interview. Instead, we take the approach of clearly identifying ourselves upfront as reporters and letting sources know what they say will be on the record. We don't allow the mayor, for example, to pick and choose what he said to a reporter can be used in a story. That judgment stays under the journalists' control, for better or worse. This places the burden on us to use good judgment and to be fair.
3) On a sensitive story such as one involving a traffic death, we tread lightly when approaching the family. We try to let them know that coverage is coming and that we want to offer them the opportunity to comment. However, we don't want to push at all during such a time. We also recognize that family members don't always agree, particularly during stressful situations.
The issue of sharing stories with sources before publication is debated within the industry. For those who want to read more, this is a link to a recent discussion on the topic: "What are the arguments for, against sending stories to sources before publication?"
In the comments on that article, Gene Weingarten, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer, argues strongly against allowing sources to see content in advance. "You are asking a source, in effect, to approve something in its entirety -- your characterizations, your conclusions, your judgments -- on a subject about which he is by definition incapable of objectivity."
I bring up this issue today because some readers have suggested families should be able to review and approve in advance any photo of any fatal traffic scene. While this might seem like a compassionate gesture, it raises other complicated issues.
Of course, philosophical discussions aside, all of this ultimately depends upon good judgment being exercised in the newsroom. We will consider that judgment during our ethics board meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday and renew our invitation to those interested in attending. If you would like to attend, please call my office at 574-1271 to be sure we have a chair available for you.
Thank you to the many people who have commented already. We will consider all of these comments even if you are unable to attend Tuesday.
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