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Is quote approval undermining journalism?

September 18, 2012

Many journalists covering politics, government and business now agree to quotation-approval as a condition of access. As New York Times columnist David Carr writes, a great quotation can make an article sing or the truth resonate, and should be the last refuge of spontaneity in an age of endlessly managed messages.

But an anecdotal survey of 20 reporters showed that on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and at some of the big media companies, sources are asking for, and sometimes receiving, the kind of consideration that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

“Requests for quote approval rise in direct proportion to the involvement of PR people,” saysFelix Salmon, a business columnist at the Reuters newswire. Carr concedes that reporters usually don’t record interviews and can’t always type or write as quickly as a subject is speaking, so what appears in quotation marks is sometimes an approximation of what was actually said, and sources want to protect themselves from distortion.

PRSA member Ed Cafasso, a former reporter and editor and current senior vice president at Boston-based Solomon McCown, sees other reasons for the rise in requests for quote approvals.

“One of the main drivers behind pre-approval is the decline in journalistic competence,” Cafasso tells PR Tactics. “Today, anyone with access to a blog or a website is a reporter. As journalistic competence has suffered, the need for communications caution has increased.”

Meanwhile, David Von Drehle, a writer for Time, partly blames the quote-approval trend on sound-bite journalism that’s more interested in reporting gaffes than in conveying the substance of a person’s ideas, causing sources to behave defensively. But as Carr adds, “The first draft of history should not be rewritten by the people who make it.” Greg Beaubien


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