The Appalling Truth About Quote Approval

As a former journalist who has spent the past 14+ years on every side of the media interview – spokesperson, PR conduit and media trainer – I have always said that “there’s no such thing as a perfect news story.”

Working with journalism is a trade-off. You lose control but you gain a credible forum for your message (and often a relatively large audience) in return. Because of the human element in the editorial process, mistakes can be made. But, the vast majority of the time, reporters and editors want to “get it right” and the audience gets accurate and fair, although sometimes imperfect, reporting.

But for some high-profile news subjects, that, apparently, is not enough. There’s a new type of trade-off. The New York Times first reported in July that both Presidential Campaigns are demanding quote approval or denying access to reporters. Today, a new Times report, from media columnist David Carr, says that even in the business world, access to executives is being traded for the ability of PR staff to approve quotes.

Here in the trenches, we find this appalling. Over the years, some journalists have asked us to approve quotes as part of a fact checking process. In these rare instances, we are asked to review quotes for accuracy, and only for accuracy.
However, we will not make quote approval a condition of access to one of our clients. If a client demanded such an arrangement, we would not risk damage to our media relationships and we would decline.

If a client wants to get a message to its audiences, unfiltered with complete control, there are many ways of doing that. Buy an ad, craft social media, give a speech, send an e-blast, make your website content centric – those are just a few examples. But an interview with a journalist should be a different form of communication. In that case, journalists and PR professionals should work together to, in tandem, maintain credibility.

“Quote approval or else” flies in the face of any credible journalistic effort. News consumers beware.