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Vetting information protects everyone involved

A self-imposed rule is to ask sources to vet stories I write. In my environmental track, the topics are usually scientific in nature, and the sources are almost always scientists who are experts in fields I am only generally familiar with at best. I don’t want to take a chance on embarrassing myself – or a source – by making a mistake in explaining highly technical information in layman’s terms for a general, non-scientific audience. I remember asking one scientist if she would mind if I sent her the story to review before sending it to my editor. “Mind?” she asked. “I would love it. I can’t tell you how many times reporters have interviewed me and gotten information I have told them wrong. I’ve even had colleagues who read stories I was quoted in call me and ask, ‘Did you really say that?’” My editor is very supportive of this procedure. It protects her and the publication, too! Newspapers don’t allow reporters to ask a source or a source’s peer to vet a story before it is published. Their concern is that people quoted in the story or who offer supporting information for it will try to influence the way the story is written. I’ve not run into that. And I don’t anticipate that I will. Scientists I’ve interviewed want what I want and what my editor wants – for information to be accurate when it gets into the public domain.

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