The executive editor of an influential technology news site recently replied to my email about a client’s breakthrough new technology. He tried it, had Web connectivity issues, and quickly declared:
“Seriously, I’ve looked at several such services, and this is not special. In fact, it’s a generic Windows DaaS service. So, please, stop pitching it to me.”
Wrong. It was no such thing and nothing like it currently exists, but I guess the two minutes we learned he spent testing the service was sufficient for him to reach his erroneous conclusion. I acquiesced and cut off any further engagement.
A contributor to a prominent business publication recently interviewed a client about a new financial service. The piece was posted online, but contained several significant factual mistakes. I asked my client to write directly to the reporter pointing out the errors and asking for them to be corrected — at least in the online version. The reporter wrote back claiming that she had fact-checked the article and refused to make the changes – even though they were clearly incorrect.
Was it laziness, sloppiness or just plain arrogance that prompted this “holier than thou” attitude? And am I the only one who has observed a dramatic rise in the number of such reporting mistakes? It’s no wonder newsmakers would rather bypass the editorial filter altogether to communicate directly with their key constituencies.
|Writer Michael Lewis
The latest affront to the PR profession — as if PR pros needed more agida — arrived in July via a column titled “Latest Word on the Trail? I Take It Back” from New York Times media industry reporter Jeremy Peters.
Mr. Peters followed it up last week with a second post in which he called out one of today’s most respected non-fiction writers Michael (“Moneyball,” “Liars Poker”) Lewis for agreeing to let President Obama’s PR team pre-approve their boss’s quotes for a substantive profile in Vanity Fair magazine:
“Like other journalists who write about Washington and presidential politics, Mr. Lewis said that he had to submit to the widespread but rarely disclosed practice of quote approval.”
This revelation, which (uncomfortably) broadens the long-standing practice of entertainment PR types leveraging access to their celebrity clientele to gain more control over the end editorial product, set outraged media pundits’ tongues-a-waggin: Here’s a sampling:
Last night, the Times’s David Carr fueled the ire with a piece titled “The Puppetry of Quotation Approval,” which instantly prompted a whole new round of PR bashing and journalistic hand-wringing. In it, Felix Salmon of Reuters said:
“Requests for quote approval rise in direct proportion to the involvement of P.R. people. As he flack-to-hack ratio continues to rise, the number of requests for quote-approval will continue to rise as well.”
(Hmmm. I wonder if Felix’s quote was procured via email?) Others:
Listen, I’m a huge fan of @Carr2n’s, and a big booster of quality journalism. I’ve publicly lamented the degradation of this noble and essential profession. But, does anyone realistically believe that the shortcomings in journalism can be laid at the feet of PR “puppets” who mostly seek to have their clients POVs recorded and reported accurately? Doesn’t advance fact-checking and quote review actually make for more accurate reporting?
|Ferguson’s Discredited Piece
Who wasn’t surprised when it was learned that Newsweek, in defense of its much-maligned Niall Ferguson take down of Pres. Obama’s economic policies, hadn’t fact-checked articles for years. (Maybe it wasn’t so surprising given Mr. Ferguson’s many dubious assertions.) And hasn’t a site like the Huffington Post taken this concept to a new level by turning over its editortial real estate to “experts” who enjoy seeing their views published completely absent a journalistic filter? Even Mr. Carr acknowledges:
“Reporters donâ€™t generally record most interviews and canâ€™t always type or write as quickly as a subject is speaking. I have been written about enough to know that what appears in quotation marks is sometimes an approximation of what is actually said. Sources want to protect themselves from routine distortion.”
|NYTimes Public Editor Margaret Sullivan
Mr. Carr’s post prompted New York Times new Public Editor Margaret Sullivan to weigh in with a post titled “The Times Needs a Policy on Quotation Approval and Soon,” in which she wrote:
Some parts of the practice, I believe, do fall into a black-and-white realm. The idea that a reporter must send a written version of a quotation to a source or his press representation for approval or tweaking is the extreme version of the â€œquote approvalâ€ practice and it ought to be banned in a written rule.
In fact, I strongly urge all news organizations to forbid this practice, and, if they do, they will surely find strength in numbers. News sources â€“ particularly those in the political sphere â€“ do want to get their message out. They will not stop speaking to The Times or The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post because of such a policy.
She’s right. The Times, The Journal and the Washington Post carry too much weight (and social influence) for political newsmakers (and their PR consiglieres) to bypass altogether. Yet, the goal for reporters should be to get it right…not to publish the most inflammatory spur-of-the-moment link bait that may or may not be captured verbatim.
If this means working more closely with newsmakers and their designated PR reps, I’m all for it. However, should PR people with high in-demand clients have the right to pre-approve the content of a story, quotes included? Mostly no, but if it helps ensure a story’s accuracy by moe closely reflecting a newsmaker’s POV, yes. It’s not black & white.