Reporter’s Notebook: Tips for safely managing ag reporters

Some tips on how to talk to reporters, and why you might want to in the first place

Reporter. Taking notes. Media interview.

Last spring I wrote a column designed to scare all of you from ever talking to a reporter. If you’ve run into a pack of farm reporters at a field day, you’ll know why I felt compelled to warn you. (Just kidding, we’re okay).

I thought I’d start the New Year with a couple more tips, and also a reason for talking to us, so my colleagues don’t stop talking to me.

Many journalists will never let a source review a story before it goes to print. There are a couple of good reasons for this. One is tight deadlines. The other reason is ethical. Letting a source read a story before it’s published could open the door to censorship. How would you feel as a reader, knowing sources had edited a controversial story before it was published?

More common is a source who wants his or her quotes to sound more eloquent. This is an ethical problem as well, as anything within quotation mar­ks should reflect what the source actually said. Plus, editing quotes usually drains the life right out of them.

All that being said, some publications do let sources read the story. In fact, some publications require that sources read the story, to check for accuracy.

Personally, I will usually let people read the interview notes, if they ask, as long as they only fact check rather than edit quotes or start back-tracking on things they said.

My advice, if you’re concerned, is to ask at the beginning of the interview. And I hope you wouldn’t turn down an interview based on this. Most of us are pretty conscientious.

If you’re speaking at a farm show, you should assume media are there, and that they may quote anything you say for a story later on. Besides, even if there aren’t any journalists in the crowd, there’s a good chance people are tweeting about your presentation.

Alberta Farmer reporter Jen Blair and I were talking about this with Alberta rancher Patrick Kunz, on Twitter. The gist of the conversation was that as farm media, we’re not really out to hurt anyone or make them look like goofs. But it is our job to quote you if what you’ve said is of interest to our readers. So when you’re speaking, think about what you want to add to the public discourse and how you want to be seen.

Doing an interview is unlikely to add to your farm’s bottom line. But I think there’s a benefit to getting your perspective on the record for certain issues, events, or experiences.

On November 29, Turtleford’s last grain elevator caught fire. Fortunately no one was hurt and volunteer firefighters kept the blaze from spreading. It was a historic event for our community, as we lost the last historical tie to the grain and railway infrastructure that we once had. Many people posted photos and video to social media as the old Sask Wheat Pool elevator burned.

It wasn’t long before the media got hold of it. By the next day, several media organizations had reposted photos and video from the fire. But there wasn’t much context, and at least one media organization got the facts wrong.

I can understand how this happened. The fire was visually stunning, and Turtleford is a long way from any major centres. Reporters from Saskatoon and Regina are unlikely to make the drive, especially given the ongoing budget cuts at so many companies. Besides, most reporters likely didn’t know who owned the elevator and likely didn’t have the contacts within the community to find out.

But the elevator fire wasn’t just a symbolic loss for the community. It was a very real loss for the McDonald family. I can’t imagine how they must have felt, watching their grain, elevator, and a semi-trailer burn after such a rough harvest. I felt it was important for our community to get that story on record, and Blair McDonald was kind enough to talk to me.

I rarely have trouble finding farmers willing to talk, even though there’s usually no tangible benefit to them personally. I think this speaks to the good relationship between the farm media and the agricultural community. I’m grateful to work in a media industry with so many colleagues I respect.

But we couldn’t write these stories without sources. So thank you to all the farmers who’ve talked to me over the years about everything from root rot to railways.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.



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