The New York Times announced Thursday that the paper would end the increasingly common journalistic practice of "quote approval," which allowed news sources greater control over what quotes from interviews could appear in articles.
In July, Times reporter Jeremy Peters called attention to quote approval in a story detailng how the Obama and Romney campaign wield control over the press corps covering them by rarely agreeing to on-the-record interviews. Instead, campaign officials asked reporters to speak "on background" under ground rules allowing them to later approve or disapprove which quotes could be used on the record.
New Times public editor Margaret Sullivan called Monday for the paper's editors to devise a policy on the matter, following a column by David Carr on "The Puppetry of Quotation Approval." On Thursday, executive editor Jill Abramson told Sullivan that the paper was now drawing "a clear line" against it.
At the same time Sullivan posted her story Thursday, Times standards editor Phil Corbett sent staffers a memo outlining the paper's new "Guidelines On Quote Approval." The memo, obtained by The Huffington Post, is below:
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.
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