Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Final quote approval by newsmakers and Freeman policy

It's come to light recently that some fairly heavyweight journalistic organizations have routinely granted final quote approval to story subjects. This was somewhat surprising to me, but presented an opportunity to clarify our principles on this issue. Following is an excerpt from a memo sent to Freeman reporters and editors, who were directed to consider this policy:

Reporters, at their discretion, may read quotes back to story subjects when, in the reporter’s judgment, clarity and accuracy are at issue. That’s good journalism. However, under no circumstances shall a Freeman reporter or editor grant or imply that a story subject has control or final approval over any element of story content, including direct quotes from the subject.

Once said to a reporter, the words of a story subject belong to the reporter and the Freeman for dissemination to the public as, in our institutional judgment, may be required. A story subject may expand or explain a prior utterance, but cannot presume to recall what he or she has said.

If a story subject demands quote approval prior to an interview, it is policy to decline the interview. The resulting story should indicate the subject declined to speak to the Freeman without final approval over the use of quotes, which the Freeman does not grant. If the failure of a potential story subject to agree to our policy on quotes means we must forgo a story altogether, so be it.