Author Archives: Laurence Hammack

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About Laurence Hammack

Laurence Hammack is a reporter at The Roanoke (Va.) Times. He is attending Health Journalism 2013 on an AHCJ-Rural Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Journalists discuss quote approval, emailed questions, access to experts #ahcj13

Photo by Pia ChristensenJournalists Irene Wielawski, Peggy Peck and Blythe Bernhard offered advice that included explaining to readers when a reporters’ access to experts or officials is less than optimal.

You’re on a tight deadline, and your source will only take questions by email. A public information officer insists on sitting in on one of your interviews. You’re asked to let someone review a quote before it appears in print or online.

What to do? Those were some of the questions addressed during a roundtable discussion led by three members of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee at Health Journalism 2013.

Many times, the answer boiled down to this: It depends on the circumstances, but always try to explain those circumstances to your readers.

Blythe Bernhard, health and medicine reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said she’s often troubled when public information officers for the state health department insist on emailed questions.

“When you grant an email interview, you give some editorial control to your source,” Bernhard said. “You allow them to control the conversation, and you’re not able to ask follow-up questions.”

Sometimes you have to settle for email interviews. But Bernhard offered a few tips on how to avoid them: Always name the PIO who insists on the format, and mention how many phone calls went unreturned. “They hate having their names in the story” under those circumstances, and might reconsider their policy in the future, Bernhard said. Continue reading