There will come a time during your interviewing career when an interview subject will ask to see your article before it’s published. This is a difficult request to deal with because you may feel you owe the interview subject that courtesy as a thank you. What I can tell you, however, is that in almost all circumstances it’s a bad idea.
If someone asks to see the article before it’s published, check with the publisher to see if there’s a policy on it. I say this more as a matter of covering your bases. I don’t know of any periodical (feel free to correct me) that has a policy of always showing the interview subject an article ahead of time because publishers know it’s a bad idea. But, if they have a policy of not showing the article prior to publication, you can honestly answer the request with, “I’m sorry, the magazine has a policy of not showing articles prior to publication.” It’s out of your hands.
I’m Sorry, I Can’t Share the Article Prior to Publication
So why is it such a terrible idea? A year ago, I posted that one of the pitfalls of being a freelance writer is that everyone thinks they can write. This includes interview subjects. You may send them the article thinking that they’ll be super pleased with what you’ve written, only to have them send it back filled with their own corrections and edits to your writing–corrections and edits that have nothing to do with the information they gave you. They’ll feel free to act as your editor and make changes all over the place to your writing. And yes, this really does happen.
Or, they might decide they don’t like the tone of your article. Maybe you interviewed someone about a drug study and he gave you information about the side effects of the drug. But, upon seeing the article you’ve written, he doesn’t like the angle you’ve used for your story, or he doesn’t like what your other interview subjects have said, or he doesn’t like some of the research you’ve presented. He may then have second thoughts about being included in the article, which puts you in a bad position.
I’m Sorry, I Can’t Share the Article, But…
In many cases, interview subjects are really just concerned about how they sound in the article and how their quotes come across. In some cases–and you have to use your judgement here and also go with your publisher’s policies–you can offer to send them their direct quotes. I wouldn’t do this all the time, and it can depend on the interview topic, but sometimes a happy medium is to show the subject her quotes and verify the facts in those quotes.
Yes, You Can See the Article
I hesitate to add this because it’s incredibly rare that it’s a good idea to show someone an article prior to publication (and it’s never a good idea if the publication has a policy against it). In the post about showing the questions before publication, I used the example of interviewing the CEO of a company whose newsletter you write for. Because the CEO is a client, if he wants to see the article first you pretty much have to show it.
There’s one other situation in which I have shown interview subjects an article ahead of time. But keep in mind that this is a very specific type of interview and not one whose conditions occur regularly.
Sometimes, I interview lawyers about lawsuits, legal findings, legal concepts and legal investigations. In these situations, the lawyer is my only interview subject, so changes to the article don’t affect any other interview subjects. Because we’re discussing legal topics, the precise wording of my article is paramount. A couple of wrong words about a lawsuit could lead to a world of trouble for me and the interview subject. In these cases, I’m covering my bases if I’ve sent the article to the lawyer ahead of publication and requested that she approve it. Usually, the lawyer makes one or two changes to her direct quotes and may recommend a few changes to wording in the rest of the article. Those changes can make a world of difference. (This was, of course, with the publisher’s permission.)
Often, I tell writers to go with their gut on a particular writing issue. But on this issue, I would rarely even suggest that. An interview subject who can seem perfectly nice and accommodating can turn very sour quickly. I once interviewed the president of a national non-profit organization, who was lovely during the interview. She asked to see the article ahead of time and I declined, citing publication policy. Once the article was published online, she sent me an e-mail demanding multiple changes to the article. These weren’t major changes–she didn’t like some of the words I used, but those words were her own, not words I’d chosen arbitrarily.
I forwarded her email to the editor, who agreed to make the changes. At least at that point it was out of my hands. If the editor didn’t want to make those changes, that was his perogative, too. And, the interview subject actually e-mailed me a second time demanding further changes. Imagine if I’d let her see the article prior to publication. I don’t think I’d ever have been able to please her with the article, and it’s better I didn’t try.