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Our Reporting Process

If you hear from a reporter, you might wonder: What is this person looking for, and what will it mean if I agree to talk? Or maybe you’re considering whether to contact The Chronicle yourself. Connecting with us is an opportunity to share your experience and insights, and to explain the context and nuances of an issue — not only to us, but to a broad higher-ed audience.

To help answer any questions you may have, here are some tips from our reporters. You can find all of our contact info here (and our names link to author pages).

Every reporting process is different. Sometimes reporters will contact you knowing exactly why they’re interested in a topic and how they’re approaching it. Other times they will start talking with people before a story takes shape. We are as transparent as possible with our sources, including when we’re still not sure what the major theme or central tension of a story will be. Journalism is a process of discovery.

Ask us what we’re looking for. Reporters might need an expert perspective on a tight deadline. Sometimes we have an idea for a long-term story and are trying to find subjects. Or we’re in the early stages of exploring a possible story. If you’re not sure what’s likely to happen as a result of an interview, you can always ask.

An interview is just a conversation. It’s fine to prepare, but talking with a reporter is different from giving a presentation. We are drawn to quotes that sound like a person talking rather than a sentence in a journal article.

Tell us a story. It’s one thing to say, “I believe X.” But how you came to believe it, and why, probably involves a story about your experience in life or at work. Readers often respond to anecdotes that explain why something came about or how someone’s thinking evolved — that’s why journalists may ask questions about the broader context. And if you give us data points, show us how they relate to human experiences.

Help us see complexity. Journalists are often accused of oversimplifying the subjects we cover. Experts and people working on the ground can help us see nuances that might not be immediately obvious. Good journalists want to understand those nuances.

Set us straight. If you think a reporter’s understanding of your comments, or the larger issue, is off base, say so.

Double check. If you don’t have an exact date or number handy, make it clear you’re estimating, and follow up with the exact figure when you can. We want to get these things right!

You can ask to go off the record. If you want to speak with a reporter but don’t want your name to be published, you’ve got options. Explain your circumstances (for example, you are worried that if you speak openly, you could lose your job), and ask to talk on background or off the record. Definitions of “on background” can vary across news organizations. For us it means that the information you share can be published, but only under conditions agreed upon with you, the source. People who speak on background typically do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position (e.g., “a department chair at a large public university”). “Off the record” means that nothing you tell the reporter will appear in a story unless the reporter is able to confirm that information elsewhere. Agreements like these, made by a reporter and a source, depend on each situation — emphasis on the word agreement. The reporter has to consent to allowing you to talk on background or off the record, and both parties should clarify what is meant by that. If you’re not sure, please ask.

Recommend other sources. If you can think of other people well positioned to shed light on an issue, tell us. Especially if they’re people we might not know or think of.

Send us a follow-up. Even a long, thoughtful interview can’t cover everything. There’s often more to say, more context to share. It’s OK to follow up with an email that includes additional thoughts, maybe that one crucial point that occurs to you hours later. And we may very well follow up with you, especially if the topic is complex.

Being interviewed does not necessarily mean being quoted. We tend to cast a wide net. Sometimes several people give us very similar information or insight. We won’t quote them all by name, but everyone’s comments will inform the story. Knowing that there’s some degree of consensus out there is incredibly helpful.

Check back in. If you talked to a reporter some time ago, and you don’t know whether the interview resulted in a story or what might happen next, it’s fine to ask.

We don’t share stories before they’re published. But we will do our best to confirm that all our facts are accurate, and our understanding of your perspective is correct.

Sometimes stories don’t work out. It actually happens all the time, for all sorts of reasons. But don’t be discouraged. We are always collecting experiences, observations, and insight. Even if a pitch or interview doesn’t directly lead to a published story, it’s vital information that still guides our coverage.