Everything you need to know about talking to news reporters

Being interviewed by a reporter for a news article can be a great way to share your point of view or help draw attention to an issue you think is important. 

EXAMPLE: Imagine, hypothetically, you’re a mom pushing a stroller, and you have to take the subway to a doctor’s appointment, but the subway has no elevator for the stroller. You may want to suggest to a news reporter that they write a story about this issue. Or, a news reporter who is already working on a story  may approach and ask to interview you. In addition to politicians and people who are experts on transportation, journalists may want to interview parents with strollers or people with disabilities to provide real life illustrations of the problem. That way, the story will be more interesting and credible, and people who read it may see the importance of having an elevator at that station (or they may think installing an elevator is not worth the money – every reader is entitled to their own opinion). 

However, there are some cases where there may be downsides to talking to a reporter. For example, maybe the news article is about a sensitive issue, and you are concerned that your friends, family, or employer might read it and see your name. It is your choice whether or not you want to share information, and if so, how much you want to share. Here is some information that can help you decide.

When you talk to a news reporter for a story, unless you both agree otherwise, the reporter can include everything you say in their article. 

You may be in an interview with a reporter and want to share some details that you don't want the reporter to include in the story. In this case, before you share those details, make sure the reporter agrees not to include those quotes in the story.


Reporter: Do you think there should be an elevator here?

Source: Yes! I was trying to take my baby to the doctor, and I had to carry my stroller all the way down the stairs; it was horrible.

Reporter: When did this happen?

Source: I’ll tell you if you agree not to put it in the story.

Reporter: OK, I won’t put it in the story.

You may decide to only talk to a reporter if they agree to keep you anonymous by not using your name in the article. In this case, make sure the reporter understands and agrees, and make sure you do this in the beginning of the conversation, before you share sensitive information with them. Make sure you agree on exactly which pieces of information to include and exclude. The journalist may ask, “Is it OK if we use your first name or first initial, but not your last name?” or “Is it OK if we say what neighborhood you live in?” You can say no if you’re afraid this information could be used to identify you and make you subject to reprisals. Just keep in mind that reporters always prefer to use as much identifying information as possible, so that it’s clear that they are accurately reporting on real people. Whenever you ask for anonymity, the reporter will ask you to explain why you want to be anonymous, so that they can briefly explain it in the article. Using the example above of the mother with a stroller, here is what the article might say if the woman stays anonymous or not anonymous:

Not anonymous: “I think they should install an elevator here to the platform, because strollers are too heavy to carry up and down the stairs,” said Rachel Cohen, a mother of three who lives in Boro Park.

Anonymous: “I think they should install an elevator here to the platform, because strollers are too heavy to carry up and down the stairs,” said Rachel, a mom who asked Shtetl not to include her last name for fear of retaliation by the MTA, where her husband works. 

Anonymous: “I think they should install an elevator here to the platform, because strollers are too heavy to carry up and down the stairs,” said a mother who spoke with Shtetl on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the MTA, where her husband works.

In this example, the reporter may press Rachel to allow them to use her full name, or else choose not to quote her in the story, because an elevator isn’t a sensitive issue, and retaliation is unlikely. The reason why reporters want to avoid using anonymous sources is because some readers may not find them credible, and people may use the fact that sources are anonymous to discredit the story. But if the person being interviewed explains why it is important to them to remain anonymous, the journalist may agree. 

You may also decide that you don’t want to be quoted in the story at all, even if it’s anonymous. If this is what you want, make sure the reporter understands and agrees. Even if you are not willing to be quoted in the article, you can still share information that can help the reporter decide what stories to investigate and who else to talk to.

If a reporter agrees to interview you anonymously or keep your identity confidential, that agreement is not legally binding. But there are serious consequences for reporters who violate trust, or who write things in stories that are not true. Their names are on the article, so they may lose their reputation, and other sources may not agree to talk to them in the future. They may have to retract the story or issue a correction to it. In some cases, they can be fired from their job, blacklisted from ever finding another job in journalism, or sued. 

If you are still concerned that a journalist may change your words or violate your agreement to remain anonymous, you may want to record your interview with them using a cell phone recorder. If there is a factual error in the published story, or if the reporter didn’t honor an agreement you made with them, you can reach out to them and the editor of their publication.

Remember that once an article is published online, everyone can see it, and it’s permanent. After an article is published, changes can only be made if there is a factual error. Even if an article is changed or removed, the original version may still exist, because people may have taken screenshots of it or printed it out.


Source: I saw you quoted me in the elevator story saying I was taking my child to the doctor. Can you please take that out? I don’t want people to think my child is sick.

Reporter: I’m sorry but I have to say no, because that is what you said in our interview for the story. After a story is published, I only make changes to it if there is a factual error.

It can sometimes feel scary to share your opinions and experiences in a public setting, but it can also lead people in power to improve institutions that serve many people. If you have any questions about Shtetl’s journalistic processes, or want to share a tip, email us at info@shtetl.org