Protecting your sources leads to incomplete, empty stories

The most common form of self-censorship among corporate editors—and the most misguided—is trying to please your sources.

We anticipate that management won’t want us to write about a major victory by the competition, so we don’t write the story, for fear of it being spiked.

We guess that some prudish employees will be grossed out by a reference to a corporate customer that makes, among other products, condoms. So even though we’ve entered into an interesting joint venture with the rubber makers, we keep the story super-brief.

But the most common form of self-censorship among corporate editors—and, I’ll argue, the most misguided—is in the name of trying to please our sources.

These people don’t have to talk to us for this story, and we worry that if they don’t like the article, they won’t talk to us for the next one. So we don’t run that gritty quote comparing the corporate supply chain to the human digestion process. We don’t include the whoopee cushion anecdote, even though it was part—and frankly, the best part—of the “day in the life.” We don’t portray the brilliant HR VP with the matching dress, purse and lipstick to be half as colorful—not to say eccentric—as she is.

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