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Quote approval should never have been commonplace

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 00:10

Earlier this month, The Kenyon Collegian, Kenyon College’s student newspaper, stopped allowing sources to approve quotes in their articles. This follows similar review rejections made in September by The New York Times and The Harvard Crimson.

The Kenyon Collegian began discussing the issue after witnessing the action taken by other publications, according to a blog post by Collegian Co-Editor-in-Chief Liliana Martinez on collegemediamatters.com.

Though it is good news that many media outlets are finally  rejecting this practice of allowing sources to review their quotes before publication, why were so many of them participating in it in the first place? And how many are still doing so?
According to a letter to readers, The Harvard Crimson had been allowing quote approval because key administrators such as the university president, provost and deans would only agree to interviews on this condition. In a world ever regulated, edited and reviewed by public relations representatives, this review process takes power away from journalists.

The function of a journalist is to seek truth and report it — or so the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics says. A reporter’s job is to question a source and receive truthful, candid, accurate quotes on a specific subject. Reporters should be unbiased and portray stories, subjects and sources accurately — and sometimes this means portraying them in a negative light. If that is the truth, then that is the truth.

By granting officials control over how their quotes are used, publications are basically handing over control of the entire story. Officials should not say something if they do not want it quoted.

The fact that many officials, both at colleges and universities and in public office, will not agree to interviews without this condition is an unfortunate, tragic example of how difficult it is to get in touch with these public figures. By including a middleman, be it a public relations representative or even physical time to prepare or review information presented, the process becomes complicated and allows for more discrepancy.

The New York Times, one of the most powerful media institutions, should never have been resorting to such a practice, and neither should any other newspaper in the country. As more newspapers come forward rejecting such practice, readers should take a look at what they have been reading. What information has been left out because a source did not want their quote included?
Journalists should make it a goal to provide as much information as possible — otherwise, newspapers might as well print press releases and call it a day.

These papers’ rejection of quote approval should send a strong message to officials being quoted as well
as other publications so that this practice will not be tolerated in the future.

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