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Editorial: Talking to a Herald reporter

It’s possible that over the course of your time at Brown you’ll be asked to interact with one of our reporters. We try to cover the Brown community and include as many voices as possible —  so when a reporter speaks with you, we hope that you’ll have a positive experience with them and feel that they represented what you said fairly and accurately.

Per our mission, The Herald is a teaching organization, and we train our reporters how to do the job the way a professional would. Many of them have had no experience in journalism before. We realize that, before interacting with a Herald reporter, you may have had no experience interacting with the media yourself. Here’s what to expect if you’re talking with a reporter.

1. We try to avoid conflicts of interest. If a reporter is too close to a story, someone else will probably be reporting on it. This can be a tough line to draw, and we address it on a case by case basis.

2. There are a few ways you might talk to a reporter about a story.

  If you’re “on the record,” that means that anything you say can be reported, published or aired with your name attached. All conversations are assumed to be on the record unless you, a source, explicitly request to go off the record and the reporter agrees.

• You might ask a reporter to only speak “on background,” which means that the reporter can print what you say without naming you. You’re probably just giving background information on a story that our reporters will go elsewhere to verify.

• If what you’re saying is “not for attribution,” that means that you’re an anonymous source in an article. How we identify you should be agreed upon by the reporter and the source (you).

• “Off the record” means our reporter is limited in using the information you give. You might speak with a reporter off the record if you want them to help them understand an issue or event without being published. But, if the reporter confirms that same information with someone who spoke on the record, either on background, not for attribution, or otherwise, then she can publish that — but your name won’t be attached to the information.

3. By attaching quotes and information to an identified person, readers understand where our information comes from, and we build trust. Our first obligation is to readers and to truth. But we understand some information you divulge to a reporter may be sensitive. On rare occasions, a reporter may grant anonymity. But first, that reporter has to check with her editor, and there must be a good reason to be anonymous. Even if you’re an anonymous source in the paper, our reporter still needs to know your first and last name.

4. Our reporters should identify themselves to you and let you know they’re with The Herald. If a reporter asks to record a conversation with you, we encourage you to let them, if you’re comfortable with that — recording a conversation makes it much easier for us to quote you directly.

5. It’s against most newspapers’ policies to show you an article before it’s published, and it’s our policy, too. We can call you and read your quotes to you, and we can call you to confirm facts that you’ve given us, but we’re not allowed to change a quote of yours to make it sound better.

6. If you say something at a public event, such as a protest or meeting of the Undergraduate Council of Students, we may quote you. We cover newsworthy events, and that sometimes includes recording events that take place in public settings.

7. We do our best to be fair and accurate, but we sometimes make mistakes. If you have a factual correction to make on an article, email the reporter or and we’ll publish a correction online as soon as possible and in our print version the following day. If you feel that the article was not fair, then write a letter to the editor at If it’s fit to print, we’ll publish it. This is a way to hold us accountable and set the record straight for our readers.

Like most of you, we’re students. We’re all volunteers who are committed to our mission: producing news and other content to inform the Brown community. Like any student group, our staff turns over every few years. We’re always working to improve and learn. Judge us by our product and our conduct, today and in the years to come.

Years from now, when people want to know what life at Brown was like when we went there, they’ll likely turn to The Herald. We want to make sure that we’re providing an accurate historical representation of the student body, which means talking to you to understand what’s happening on campus. We hope that, with these guidelines, you’ll feel more comfortable knowing how to deal with the media and will speak with a reporter the next time you’re asked for an interview.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial board: Lauren Aratani ’18, Matt Brownsword ’18, Rebecca Ellis ’18 and Kate Talerico ’18.


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