By Joe Ross
The new quote approval policy at The New York Times, as quoted by Times opinion writer Margaret Sullivan:
So starting now, we want to draw a clear line on this. Citing Times policy, reporters should say no if a source demands, as a condition of an interview, that quotes be submitted afterward to the source or a press aide to review, approve or edit.
I first wrote about the quote approval problem when I linked to David Carr’s piece on it. Then I expressed my agreement with Temple Law professor David Hoffman, who wrote at Concurring Opinions about the frequency with which experts such as himself are misquoted or taken out of context.
I’m not sure the Times policy does a very good job of distinguishing between approval by PR folks and approval by subject-matter experts. The former try to approve quotes to control messaging, while the latter try to approve quotes to ensure their opinions on a given issue aren’t manipulated to further a skewed narrative.
I don’t think those two cases can be dealt with in the same policy without explicitly pointing them out and setting up a framework for each one. The Times policy allows for exceptions with senior editorial approval, and that may allow experts like Professor Hoffman to explain that they want to ensure their comments are presented in the manner in which they intend them to be presented. Or, it may not.
Marco Arment suggested disclosing when quotes have been approved for an article, instead of calling for an unqualified end to the practice. I’m not sure that’s the perfect solution, but I think I prefer Mr. Arment’s policy to the Times policy.
Disclosure makes sense and would show great respect to readers by allowing them to decide whether the reliability of a particular quote is or is not affected by its pre-approval by the source. Experts could ensure accurate representation of their opinions, and readers could be kept in the loop when a communications department has manufactured the CEO’s statement to the paper.
In short, the Times quote policy is nothing less than a good start, but it’s also nothing more.