Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Applying Editorial License to Transparency

This weekend, journalist Todd Everett posted this question in his blog:

My question: who, exactly, is served by knowing whether an interview is conducted via telephone, e-mail, lavender-scented note, or carrier pigeon (well, that might be worth a mention)?

Would Buruma be living somewhere else, had he so stated in a phone call instead of that e-mail? Would Smith hold pre-fab term papers in higher regard were he stating his opinion in a telegram? Would Gervais be less impressed had he delivered his response in person?

And he's got a point. For all the transparency that a journalist can have, sometimes it may be unneccessary, especially in an age of tightening word counts. But are the details of a question important to the quote? Say, for instance, you received a quote from a top government official in response to one of your questions:

"In me opinion, teh paperworrk has not yet been filed."

Would you quote him verbatim? Probably not, unless the story found relevance in Irish leprechauns from the ghetto. You'd probably correct the words so as to overcome his or her technological deficiencies and preserve respect out of an expectation that, had you been on the phone, he or she would not have slurred incessantly and reversed their words. Would it then matter if you reported that the official replied via e-mail (by Blackberry, no less)?

Former reporter and Texas Democratic Party chairman Joe Cutbirth once said to me that political correctness shouldn't get in the way of the facts. I think he's definitely right, but in the case of transparency, the lines are just as fuzzy.

What do you think?

No comments: