David Carr of The New York Times continues to be the most consistently interesting business news columnist covering the media industry - finding ways to make topics that should be inside news-industry baseball broadly interesting, such as today's column on the subject of quote checks.
He writes on how more sources are demanding to see their quotes prior to publication and how more journalists are giving in. I've seen this a lot recently myself and even though I'm on the PR side, I generally don't like it. Why? Carr neatly gets at the truth of the situation in this paragraph.
But something else more modern and insidious is under way. In an effort to get it first, reporters sometimes cut corners, sending questions by e-mail and taking responses the same way. What is lost is the back-and-forth, the follow-up question, the possibility that something unrehearsed will make it into the article. Keep in mind that when public figures get in trouble for something they said, it is usually not because they misspoke, but because they accidentally told the truth.
But the article isn't just a cranky reporter raging against change he can't control He quotes Reuters' Felix Salmon for the 'it's all PR peoples' fault perspective - but deftly goes beyond that simplistic formulation in his own writing. He notes why sources are getting more defensive and that people who should know better are on the wrong side - including news organizations whose reporters he wanted to quote in the column or public figures like aspiring U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The other issue is that reporters do make big mistakes with quotations on a regular basis. Not many of them work for The New York Times but I've had reporters saved from the career black eye of corrections by quote checks. I've also had to talk irate clients who were quoted saying the direct opposite of their point off the ledge and get corrections appended to online stories.
Unfortunately, quote checks in that context are like the "easy A" college professor. It's easy to be the professor, easy to be the student, so nobody complains about the practice - but it does degrade the institution.