Via Poynter.org comes news that Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli will clamp down on the practice of showing sources the drafts of stories prior to publication. That issue drew some discussion yesterday, triggered by a piece in the Texas Observer explaining how Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise had shared a draft of a story about the University of Texas with school officials before it was published.
Brauchli apparently didn’t appreciate the attention, judging from his e-mail to Poynter.org, which reads in part:
Our current policy doesn’t prohibit a reporter from sharing a story draft with a source, but we intend to tighten it to ensure that such instances are rare without dispensation from a top editor. The practice of sharing unedited, unpublished material with sources is something we discourage.
Only for the sake of accuracy should the step ever be taken, Brauchli went on to explain.
Perhaps, then, I should be a bit more careful about what I write and do. Yesterday this blog endorsed draft-sharing: “I do this stuff all the time, sharing either partial or whole drafts with sources. Sometimes I’ll read the copy; others, I’ll e-mail it.”
There’s some vigorous disagreement among journalists about sharing unpublished work. Many lined up behind the denunciations of Gene Weingarten, the longtime Washington Post writer, who blasted the exercise as an invitation to corruption.
And others stand by it, including Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews and former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks, now a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He writes the following thumbs-up via e-mail:
[W]hen I was at the Post, I used to e-mail drafts to sources all the time. I never felt like I was subjecting myself to pressure. Rather, I used it to pressure sources, especially recalcitrant or hostile ones — which pretty much described the people around [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. I would say something like, “Here is where I am going. Speak now or forever hold your peace.”
I saw nothing wrong with the practice. It showed sources that I was serious about getting it right — and also would go to press whether or not they cooperated. It often resulted in getting more facts and more accuracy. I think the practice should be encouraged.