Should journalists change quotes? Ever?


Some of you have said something similar to this in class:

The truth, according to writer and journalist Janet Malcolm, is “messy, incoherent, aimless, boring, absurd…the truth does not make a good story; that’s why we have art.” She also compared accuracy to a shapeless housecoat.

But what about people’s quotes?  How should a journalist deal with editing messy or incoherent or downright boring quotes from his or her interviewees?  Is it doing the subjects a favor or a disservice to clean up their words a bit?  Or is that ethically wrong?  Where is the line?

Jon Franklin, a  a two-time Pulitzer winner who now teaches journalism and creative writing at the University of Oregon, says this:

“I’ve changed quotes and I’ve been accused of changing quotes, but I have never been accused of changing a quote I actually changed…People don’t say what they mean, and they expect you to quote what they mean, not what they say. That is slippery, but it’s the reality.”

Susan Feeney, a national political reporter for the Dallas Morning News, says this:

“You can’t. You can’t fix quotes. Period…If somebody speaks in a way in which quoting them is incomprehensible, you don’t use the quote. You use partial quotes. I don’t fix them. Ever.”

What do you think?

To find out more about this debate- read an article that quotes many journalists (correctly?  lets hope!) here.


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