Journalists fight against quote approval

A growing practice among beat reporters involves granting sources anonymity in exchange for otherwise withheld information. The result produces stories littered with attributions to “top White House official” or “prominent Republican candidate.” Many critics worry this growing practice lessens journalistic credibility.

It is becoming increasingly common for prominent sources to require journalists to agree to terms such as animosity or quote approval prior to interviews. Under these terms, sources maintain approval and editing rights to any quotation said on record. In exchange, journalists gain information they otherwise may not have gotten.

Debate about this issue was sparked from a recent New York Times article in which this issue was called into question. The writer, Jeremy Peters, noted stories not only lose credibility but also colorful detail. Most quotations that are edited by sources after the interview maintain the basic information as before but colloquialisms and profanities are often removed, he said.

This practice thrives mainly in areas where journalists outnumber sources because they have a monopoly of sorts over the information they provide. This scarcity effect gives sources the power to leverage negotiations over reporters, allowing them access to information only under certain conditions. It also provides sources with an increase in power over the stories the press produces.

Several top companies, including the NYT, have attempted to ban reporters’ ability to grant quote approval. Because the practice has become so common among political coverage, journalists are finding ways to work around these bans.

Is the information journalists are gaining through these schemes worth the loss of credibility? Is there a way to break the cycle of source approval or is it already established as a practice within the field? Should reporters fight to regain their control over what they print in stories?

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One Comment on “Journalists fight against quote approval”

  1. Aashka Dave says:

    I don’t see the information gained on conditions of anonymity as worth the loss of credibility. In the long run, routine anonymous sources can set a precedent that may prove impossible to overcome. More to the point, credibility, once lost, cannot be regained immediately. Without credibility, the very purpose of informing citizens becomes invalidated — because citizens no longer want to be engaged by the press. For that reason, reporters should regain control over what they print in stories.


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