Monthly Archives: September 2012

Quote Approval: NYTimes bans it

By Christopher B. Daly 

It was the only decision they could have made, but credit New York Times executives with deciding to ban the pernicious practice of “quote approval.”

In an announcement made Thursday, the paper said it would no longer allow its reporters to grant their sources the power to approve their own quotes before they appear in news stories. The Times was slow in figuring this out, but a right decision is always welcome.

Here’s the takeaway:

. . .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.

That should have been self-evident.

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“Silent Spring” at 50

Here is a wonderful tribute to Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking environmental reporting, Silent Spring. The book was published on Sept. 27, 1962, just a few months after it first appeared in (where else?) The New Yorker.

Rachel Carson, thank you.

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Quote approval: David Carr disapproves

By Christopher B. Daly

Today’s Times brings the news that David Carr has joined the chorus of journalists denouncing the journalistic practice known as “quote approval” (which consists, essentially, of allowing your interview subjects to clean up their comments before publication or — in extreme cases — to recast what they said altogether).

All I can say is, welcome aboard this bandwagon.

Carr also blogged about the issue today on the paper’s hard-to-find Media Decoder  site, inviting comments and quoting the outspoken Buzz Bissinger.

Here’s my comment: In nearly 20 years at the AP and the Washington Post, I must have quoted hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Based on that experience, I can say that almost no one ever asked for quote approval (and no one got it) and nobody ever said I mis-quoted them. I used a tape recorder, but only rarely. I took notes like mad, and I only ran with those quotes I was sure of. This is not rocket science. And it’s not that I was any kind of paragon. Those were just the rules of the game.

The standard at the AP, but the way, was very clear: Every word that appeared inside quote marks must have been said by that person, in that order, with nothing added or left out.

Call me old-school, but that’s exactly what I expect when I read another journalist’s work. If I’m not getting that, I might as well be reading fiction, or P.R.

” . . . “





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Collecting journalism history

By Christopher B. Daly 

For those who want to understand America’s history through the legacy of printed materials, there is a terrific new exhibit at the Grolier Club, a leading institution for bibliophiles (who knew?), located at 47 E60th St. in Manhattan. According to the NYTimes, the exhibit shows the importance of collecting historical materials while history is being made, rather than waiting and hoping to find them later.

The exhibit, titled “In Pursuit of a Vision,” features some of the gems from the estimable American Antiquarian Society.

The AAS (which is not as stuffy as its name might imply) is located in Worcester, Mass., and it serves as the greatest repository of original newspapers, magazines and ephemera from early America through the 19th century. It was founded by Isaiah Thomas, a Revolutionary War-era printer/editor who put out a paper called The Massachusetts Spy. When he thought the Redcoats might be about to shut him down, he fled from Boston to Worcester, and he brought with him his own collection of newspapers, which formed the core of the AAS collection.


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Quote approval: Threat or menace?

By Christopher B. Daly

Now comes word that no less a journalist than the estimable Michael Lewis (of Moneyball and The Big Short) bowed to demands that he grant the White House approval over any quotes in exchange for some pretty unusual access to President Obama.

Although this is not a simple question, I believe it has a simple answer: don’t do it.

Journalists should help each other to stand firm against this pernicious practice.

Think about it this way: Everything always comes out eventually.

Accepting grounds rules like quote approval just corrupts journalism and gives readers another reason not to trust us.

In the latest case, Michael Lewis should have kept in mind that Obama needs him every bit as much as he needs Obama — maybe more. Sheesh.

Photo by Pete Souza (Official White House photographer -- and B.U. alum)

Photo by Pete Souza (Official White House photographer — and B.U. alum)


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Clay Shirky on the journalism business model

By Christopher B. Daly

The new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review has a terrific piece by Clay Shirky about the current efforts to rescue journalism by finding a new business model for the news business. (Don’t get discouraged by the misleading — confusing? — headline.)

Shirky, who teaches about these issues at NYU’s Carter Institute of Journalism, compresses a lot of the points I made in my recent book, Covering America, in chapter 3 (about the rise of the Penny Press) and in chapter 13 (about the collapse of the “dual revenue stream” that financed journalism from the 1830s to the 1990s). In my book, the final chapter adds some recent success stories, showing how some digital natives are making a go of it in the new environment — doing great, serious journalism and, importantly, making money at the same time.

In my view, too many of us suffer from the historical fallacy of thinking that the present is “normal” and reflects the way things have always been. A lot of people, especially those over 35 or so, operate on the assumption that it is normal for journalism to be practiced by full-time employees of large, profitable corporations. In fact, by taking the long view, as I do in my book, it can be seen that the way journalism was practiced in the late 20th Century was not inevitable, not necessary, and certainly not permanent. It is already fading into the past as a distinct historical period, giving way to a present in which people are still figuring out the future.

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Monday round-up

By Christopher B. Daly

I don’t know about you, but I had a surprise today when I picked up my NYTimes: it was literally wrapped in a section-sized, full-color ad for Tiffany & Co. (Interestingly, there is no sign of Tiffany on the Times‘ website homepage.)

Thank heaven for Tiffany. How lovely that they have enough money on hand to buy what amounts to a 4-page print ad, just to congratulate themselves on turning 175 years old. For most of those years, Tiffany has prospered hand-in-hand with the Times, which has delivered an upscale audience to the upscale retailer. That relationship was critical to the business model that drove U.S. journalism from the 1830s until recently. With the money from today’s special wrap-around section (and  hefty doses of regular Tiffany ads), the Times will make it to its own 175th birthday — which is due in 2026.




–Mercer University in Macon, Ga., is filling a  gap in local journalism, by housing two important institutions and supplying the raw foot-soldiers for professional newsrooms.  This is a strong trend at many universities, such as the Boston University News Service and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

David Carr was trying to say something today about financing innovation in journalism, but I’m really not sure what his point is. Does anyone know?



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