Quote accuracy: perception and elisions

Jonathan Anderson, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, pointed out that the New York Times has changed their quote approval policy:

The New York Times is drawing “a clear line” against the practice of news sources being allowed to approve quotations in stories after the fact.

The practice, known as quote approval, “puts so much control over the content of journalism in the wrong place,” the executive editor Jill Abramson told me in an interview. “We need a tighter policy.”

Times editors have been working on the policy for months, she noted — ever since a July story by Jeremy Peters revealed the practice as a widespread one that included many reporters.

The Times frames this as a line in the sand moment. David Carr explained why, the practice has grown by leaps and bounds to logical and unfortunate conclusions:

Now that it’s become clear that many journalists covering politics and government agree to quotation-approval as a condition of access, it’s tough not to see the pageant of democracy as just that: a carefully constructed performance meant to showcase the participants in the best light.

Journalism, as an art, has a few issues here. Carr rightly calls it a blunt technology, and later a transaction. Think about the next-to-last conversation you had with someone last night. Do you remember every precise word you said?

Two years ago a Crimson reporter got a mean-spirited email from someone who insisted she did not say the thing that the reporter had her saying in the story. The reporter nicely wrote her back, CCed me, and attached the mp3 of the conversation. “Listen,” the reporter wrote “at the 13:24 mark.”

The quote, as said, appeared word for word in the story. There wasn’t much the source could say at that point. Keep your notes, tape those quotes.

This issue, when it creeps up, is not about the exact phrasing so much as a reader’s perception, that’s what your sources are trying to protect if they insist on quote approval.

By the way, if a source asks for that power, say “No.”


One thought on “Quote accuracy: perception and elisions

  1. Pingback: Journalism, Avengers, something for everyone « Kenny Smith | A few words …

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