Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To quote or not to quote...

That is always the question.  But there's a new wrinkle, according to this piece in Monday's New York Times by media writer David Carr.  He is disturbed by the increasing practice of news sources insisting on reviewing their quotes before publication.  He calls it "The Puppetry of Quotation Approval".  Read the whole column here.

Here's a taste:
Within the past year, I’ve had a communications executive at a media company ask me to run quotations by him after an interview with the chief executive. I’ve had analysts, who are in the business of giving their opinion, ask me to e-mail the portion of the conversation that I intended to print. And not long ago, a spokesman, someone paid to talk, refused to put his name to a statement. Most of the time I push back, but if it’s something I feel I absolutely need, I start negotiating.
As someone who has covered Hollywood, I can’t begin to catalog the number of distasteful communications customs in that industry. And reporters I spoke to said Wall Street companies have been trying to negotiate quotations for a decade, in part because one poorly chosen word could cost millions or even billions. But now it is leaking into all corners of the kingdom.
Including government and politics.  And there's something else that can kill the truth of a story:  email interviews.  More from Carr:
But something else more modern and insidious is under way. In an effort to get it first, reporters sometimes cut corners, sending questions by e-mail and taking responses the same way. What is lost is the back-and-forth, the follow-up question, the possibility that something unrehearsed will make it into the article. Keep in mind that when public figures get in trouble for something they said, it is usually not because they misspoke, but because they accidentally told the truth.
All of which tends to serve the source, rather than the public interest.  Trouble, yes? Especially in an election season.  Back to Carr for the last word(s):
It may seem obvious, but it is still worth stating: The first draft of history should not be rewritten by the people who make it.
 Indeed.  bk

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