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October 2, 2012
Edited Quotes Aren't Quotes At All
 
Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times' Public Editor, has a piece explaining why The Times' bans quotations that need prior approval from the officials uttering them, a practice known as "quote approval." Since quotations are supposed to be freely expressed sentiments from live, breathing sources, they shouldn't need any explanation or defense in the first place. But journalistic practice can take some weird turns in pressurized places.

"The practice (of quote approval) risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources," says a Times memorandum. "In its most extreme form, it invites meddling by press aides and others that goes far beyond the traditional negotiations between reporter and source over the terms of an interview."

How about simply saying that pre-approved quotes are media manipulation, plain and simple? A quote suggests that a source is in control of, and agrees with, what he, she or their organization is saying. They are lodestones of credibility, and need to be protected for what readers, if they think about it, think they are — forthright indicators of believability, or not. Don't even think about messing with them. Sources are presumed to be in possession of their senses and sensibility when they speak for the record, if they do. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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