Princetonian to Stop Using Email Quotes in Stories, Except in ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’

The Daily Princetonian will no longer publish quotes submitted by email in its news stories, editor-in-chief Henry Rome announced today. The Princeton University student paper’s decision is the second major policy change involving email and college media already this semester.

The Princetonian shift — “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.  Eds. felt it had become detrimental to the Prince’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,” I imagine 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 Prince 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 (editor-in-chief) 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 about “quotation-approval as a condition of access” to significant or powerful sources.  As iconic New York Times media writer David Carr writes, “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.”

Update, 11:30 a.m., message from Princetonian EIC Henry Rome: “I wanted to make a distinction between the policy the Crimson recently did away with– ‘quote approval’– and what we call ‘quote review.’  We are firmly against ‘quote approval’ and do not practice such a policy. When I refer to ‘quote review,’ that is a non-binding courtesy we provide to sources in limited circumstances.  If they provided factual information that they later found to be wrong (eg ‘I said five but I meant six’), that is the only instance in which we would consider replacing a quote.  If there’s a question of whether the quote was transcribed accurately, that would be addressed then as well.  This happens entirely at the discretion of the editors.  To be clear, if a source said it, a source said it.  We don’t do revisionist interviewing.”

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