Blame PR people for the increasing prevalence of quote approval, says a leading business columnist at Reuters.
More accurately, blame the many reporters who are jumping from journalism to PR.
“Requests for quote approval rise in direct proportion to the involvement of P.R. people,” Felix Salmon, a business columnist at Reuters, told The New York Times
. “As the flack-to-hack ratio continues to rise, the number of requests for quote-approval will continue to rise as well.”
The “quote-for-approval” phenomenon to which Simon refers is when a journalist agrees to let a source OK his or her quotations in exchange for an interview.
This summer, the Times
reported on the practice, admitting that its writers have cut such deals. More recently, author and journalist Michael Lewis, who authored a new Vanity Fair
profile on the president, said
the White House granted him extraordinary access to Obama in exchange for quote approval.
Coverage of quote-for-approval referred mainly to the political world; however, the Times story in which Salmon is quoted explores how businesses’ PR departments use the practice.
media columnist David Carr writes:
“Good thing those of us who cover business don’t have to deal with the same self-preserving press policies [as political reporters]. Except we do. In an anecdotal survey of 20 reporters, it was clear that on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, and at some of the big media companies I cover, subjects of coverage are asking for, and sometimes receiving, the kind of consideration that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
“It used to be that American businesses either told reporters to go away or told them what they wanted to know. Now, a reporter trying to interview a business source is confronted by a phalanx of factotums, preconditions and sometimes a requirement that quotations be approved. What pops out of that process isn’t exactly news and isn’t exactly a news release, but contains elements of both.”
Despite the growing prevalence of quote-for-approval, Carr concedes that reporters still have leeway to write their own stories, even if the quotes are manufactured.
“But a great quotation,” he continues, “the kind that PR folks love to rub out, in my experience, can make an article sing or the truth resonate.”
Interestingly, Carr’s column doesn’t include a single quote from a PR professional.
So what do PR pros think of quote for approval?
Anecdotally, it seems many embrace it; however, in a column for PR Daily in July
media trainer Brad Phillips denounced the practice, insisting it’s bad for journalism and
bad for public relations.
“My goal as a media trainer isn’t to teach people how to wrest stories out of the hands of journalists to serve as their de facto editors. It’s to prepare spokespersons to deliver effective media interviews every time they speak to the press.
“People who believe in the need for an independent press should regard this practice as journalistic malpractice. The news organizations complicit in this insidious practice should band together immediately and collectively refuse to play ball on the terms demanded by these controlling campaigns.”
One commentator to this story took it a step further, suggesting that quote-for-approval is “the beginning of the end of free press in our country.”