A file photo of Harvard University’s campus. The Harvard Crimson is no longer allowing sources to approve quotes.
The Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper at Princeton University, will no longer publish quotes submitted by email in its news stories, editor-in-chief Henry Rome has announced. The paper’s decision is the second major shift involving email and college media already this semester.
The Princetonian policy change — “the result of consultations with major national news organizations’ senior editors and reporters” this summer — is apparently a pushback against the “prevalence of email quotes” appearing in articles. Editors feel it has become detrimental to the paper’s journalistic mission.
“Interviews are meant to be genuine, spontaneous conversations that allow a reporter to gain a greater understanding of a source’s perspective,” Rome writes. “However, the use of the email interview -– and its widespread presence in our news articles -– has resulted in stories filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”
Rome notes that exceptions to the no-email rule will be made in “extraordinary circumstances,” most likely when the information is especially valuable or the source is especially far away and phone-less. Otherwise, according to Rome, sources who only want to talk via email will be cited in stories as “declined to be interviewed.”
The Princetonian will still be allowing sources to review quotes for factual accuracy prior to publication. That is the policy The Harvard Crimson at Harvard University recently dropped. The Crimson is reversing its longstanding quote-approval practice to fight a culture of decreasing candor and availability among Harvard staff sources.
As Crimson president Ben Samuels explains in a memo to staff: “Some of Harvard’s highest officials -– including the president of the university, the provost, and the deans of the college and of the faculty of arts and sciences -– have agreed to interviews with the Crimson only on the condition that their quotes not be printed without their approval. As a result, their quotes have become less candid, less telling, and less meaningful to our coverage. At the same time, sources have more and more frequently agreed to communicate only by email rather than in person or by phone, or have asked that their names not be used along with their comments.”
In a letter to readers, Samuels and managing editor Julie Zauzmer confirm the new Crimson policy restricts “reporters from agreeing to interviews on the condition of quote review without the express prior permission of the president or the managing editor.”
The Crimson decision comes amid a larger debate now brewing among journalists about “quotation-approval as a condition of access” to significant or powerful sources. As iconic New York Times media writer David Carr contends, “Journalism in its purest form is a transaction. But inch by inch, story by story, deal by deal, we are giving away our right to ask a simple question and expect a simple answer, one that can’t be taken back. It may seem obvious, but it is still worth stating: The first draft of history should not be rewritten by the people who make it.”
Carr praises the Crimson for trying to fight this “quotation-approval” culture, noting, “Thankfully, some pushback is under way and young journalists are among those doing the pushing.”
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