The writing has been on the wall for awhile now. Newspapers ceasing their print publications in favor of online only. Reporters taking over multiple beats, and expected to churn out more stories than ever. It was only a matter of time before scandals appeared involving fake bylines, outsourced reporters and shoddy journalism.

Last year, the Chicago Tribune came under fire for its use of local news subcontractor Journatic, which hired lower-cost writers overseas to write local news stories published in print and online by major U.S. newspapers under fake bylines. When one of Journatic’s writers was discovered plagiarizing and fabricating information for a story, the provider was suspended.

Most recently, a Thomson Reuters publication, Australasian Legal Business, was found to be using a fake byline, Michelle Boatley, to make the publication seem bigger than it really is and prevent multiple bylines appearing too many times in the publication. According to the article, when people tried to email the reporter for corrections or other tips, their emails bounced back, so the editors decided to extend the ruse further by setting up a fake email address and fake Facebook page for “Boatley.”

While the media industry faces severe backlash for its ethical lapses and lax standards when it comes to what counts as reporting, this actually provides an opportunity for law firms and attorneys to help reporters report better. Here are some tips to get started.

Educate and be a good resource to reporters – Many reporters taking on a new beat are young and unfamiliar with their new territory and the names and faces operating in it. Attorneys can and should reach out and ask what the reporter’s beat will focus on, and offer to chat with reporters about their work and the hot issues being debated in that industry. Reporters appreciate hearing the attorney’s “insider perspective” and will keep coming back to the attorney for stories they are working on.

A good tip is worth a thousand words – Attorneys are typically aware of upcoming regulatory deadlines, a major court decision coming down or other time-sensitive news that will affect their clients. Reporters are often unaware of such news, or may not know about its long-term impact. Alerting a reporter you are friendly with (or want to get to know) about the news is a great way to build rapport and position yourself as a source on that topic at the same time. Reporters are always searching for good story ideas and this is a great way to bring the ideas to them.

Offer to write – More and more publications are featuring columns by guests or experts, in lieu of additional feature reporting. Why? Because it is often easier to ask an expert to write something than to spend time and resources on having a reporter research and write on the same issue. Plus, readers love to hear from experts – it gives the piece added credibility. If a reporter is interested in a topic you have proposed but doesn’t have the time to spend on it, offer to write a column about it. Having your name on the byline of a complex article not only enhances your visibility, but also helps add credibility to the publication.

To learn more, contact Vivian Hood at