The New York Times announced today that they are banning the practice known as “quote approval.” The newspaper of record is now officially against giving sources the power to approve quotes and alter language after an interview has taken place in exchange for access to the sources.
“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,” said the memo (full text below).
Giving sources the final say, after the fact, “puts so much control over the content of journalism in the wrong place,” executive editor Jill Abramson told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan. “We need a tighter policy.”
Quote approval–which has become increasingly common in recent years, especially with politicians–has been under increased scrutiny of late because of an article Jeremy Peters wrote about the practice July and Vanity Fair scribe Michael Lewis’ admission he allowed the White House to approve quotes for a lengthy profile of President Barack Obama in the magazine’s October issue.
“It is a double-edged sword for journalists, who are getting the on-the-record quotes they have long asked for, but losing much of the spontaneity and authenticity in their interviews,” Mr. Peters wrote, in his article.
Despite our reporters’ best efforts, we fear that demands for after-the-fact “quote approval” by sources and their press aides have gone too far. The practice risks giving readers a mistaken impression that we are ceding too much control over a story to our sources. In its most extreme forms, 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.
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.
We understand that talking to sources on background — not for attribution — is often valuable to reporting, and unavoidable. Negotiation over the terms of using quotations, whenever feasible, should be done as part of the same interview — with an “on the record” coda, or with an agreement at the end of the conversation to put some parts on the record. In some cases, a reporter or editor may decide later, after a background interview has taken place, that we want to push for additional on-the-record quotes. In that situation, where the initiative is ours, this is acceptable. Again, quotes should not be submitted to press aides for approval or edited after the fact.
We realize that at times this approach will make our push for on-the-record quotes even more of a challenge. But in the long run, we think resetting the bar, and making clear that we will not agree to put after-the-fact quote-approval in the hands of press aides, will help in that effort.
We know our reporters face ever-growing obstacles in Washington, on Wall Street and elsewhere. We want to strengthen their hand in pushing back against the quote-approval process, which all of us dislike. Being able to cite a clear Times policy should aid their efforts and insulate them from some of the pressure they face.
Any potential exceptions to this approach should be discussed with a department head or a masthead editor.
Good to know the paper of record is no longer letting other people write the record.