Would you rather have something scripted or nothing at all?
It’s not a new question in the media industry. Sources regularly ask to preapprove questions, conduct interviews via email, review quotes, or read stories before they are published.
All of these requests are forms of prior review, meaning the individual wants to read or filter the information received through the media. Prior review is a form of censorship that almost always leads to prior restraint, an exertion of power to stop the media from publishing material.
You send interview questions to a source who request them. They then tell you which questions they will answer and what others you should ask.
You send interview questions to a source for an email interview. They carefully draft responses to your questions and have them rewritten and approved by their superior.
You allow a source to review their quotes. They change the wording of most of their statements, eliminating others completely.
You allow a source to review a story. They decide it should be written differently (Why would you interview this person on the other side of the issue?) or shouldn’t be published at all.
These types of requests make my “Spidey sense” tingle. What is it that the source fears? What is he/she trying to hide?
I refuse an attempts at prior review, relying on my old reporter mantra that “no one person knows any one story.” Many times the refusal means losing the best source for a story, but that person never is the only source. Most times the source who refused to comment becomes part of the story as well because of their refusal to speak.
Apparently not all media practitioners feel the same.
Officials at The New York Times announced last week that they will stop allowing quote approval because the practice “tilts” the field in favour of news makers. The Times revealed in July that it was allowing quote approval, specifically by the presidential candidates’ staff. Other news agencies have come forward since, saying they also allow the practice.
Seriously? Stop allowing it? Why was it being allowed in the first place?
This type of practice also happens at the collegiate level.
The paper’s editor-in-chief Henry Rome wrote that the use of email interviews resulted in stories “filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”
But the paper still plans to allow review on some level. The staff will continue sending quotes back to sources upon request, but will change quotes only if there is a factual error.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
Should quote review/approval be allowed? Why or why not?