“Quote approval” just plain wrong

Two “truisms” I learned as a young reporter: never submit your story to the subjects of the story to “review” in advance of publication, and never agree to quote approval.

I always considered it a trust issue: I believed the people interviewed for stories were giving me factual information as they knew it, and they had to trust I would get the story right. Yes, I reviewed quotes with sources for accuracy, but never to clean up to meet their demands.

So it was with some disappointment – but not a great deal of surprise, frankly – to follow the revelations about the disturbing trend of “quote approval” embraced by news organizations. Essentially, in exchange for access to high-level officials in politics and government, journalists allow quotes to be previewed modified before publication. The practice is rampant in coverage of the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns.

As detailed in Jeremy Peters’ July 15 article for The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and the Times are among the media outlets that have agreed to the increasingly common practice. As one Times editor put it: “We don’t like the practice. We encourage our reporters to push back. Unfortunately, this practice is becoming increasingly common, and maybe we have to push back harder.”

Yes, as political coverage war horse Dan Rather wrote in a scathing opinion piece, the mighty Times and other powerful media outlets have to push back harder. It’s essential that all reporters and news organizations push back when confronted with this mandate.

Public trust in the media continues to erode; being controlled by politicians and their minions will do nothing to improve that status.

Poynter last week hosted a live chat titled, “What’s the deal with quote approval?” Follow the replay here.

About Len La Barth

I am a longtime journalist still in love with this heartbreaking business.
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