It has been the established habit of many PRs to try to get their spokespeople’s quotes checked before they appear in an article. Although many newspapers have always refused to play ball with this, and some leave it up to individual journalists, others – particularly in the trade media – see it as a sensible way to avoid errors creeping into their reporting, and keep on constructive terms with the organisations they ideal with. However, things may be changing.
Some banking and financial sector media training clients tell us that a number of publications have recently tightened up their policies on this – talk to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or FT for instance and you are more likely to be politely refused the opportunity to see the chosen quotes before the article appears. Why? I suspect that too many PRs have become too demanding and interfering with the editorial process, and now the worm is turning.
There is a big difference between correcting factual errors or clarifying shades of meaning, and trying to retract things that were actually said in t he interview, but aren’t quite ‘on-message’ enough of for some risk-averse or control-freak functionary somewhere. Try too much of the latter and you are likely to make a big enemy of the journalist who knows his or her note was accurate, and that the effect of doctoring the quote will be to greatly weaken the story. Sadly, while this new approach may deliver fewer bland, self-serving quotes, it may also allow some genuine errors to go uncorrected. It makes it even more important to be properly prepared for an interview, so spokespeople get it right first time. The safety net they have traditionally relied on my no longer be there.