City Desk

Post Memo Changes Policy on Draft Sharing, Quote Approval

Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli is finally lowering the boom on draft-sharers and the paper's quote approval policy. In the aftermath of a Texas Observer story about how Post education reporter Daniel de Vise shared story drafts with college officials, as well as the New York Times' story about the Post and other publications allowing campaign operatives to edit their quotes before publication, Brauchli took a stand against both practices in an email to staff this afternoon.

"There have been reports raising compelling questions of journalistic ethics in the practices of allowing sources to set rules on the use of quotations and the sharing of story drafts," Brauchli writes. His solution: Some changes to the Post's stylebook that include requiring the approval of Brauchli or managing editors John Temple and Liz Spayd for full draft sharing and putting a note in the article if a source adds to a quote after it's said.

Follow the jump to see the changes in full, and compare that to the old section on draft sharing.

The stylebook change also includes a new Don't Write Anything That Could Embarrass the Post rule:

In negotiating terms of engagement with a source, reporters and editors should be prepared for everything they say or write, in any medium, on the telephone or in person, to become public. They should make no promises, agree to no compromises and offer no concessions that aren’t compatible with this policy and The Post’s standards. Clarity and straightforwardness in our communications with sources is essential.

Brauchli's full email, after the jump.

 

To the staff:

Over the last several days, there have been reports raising compelling questions of journalistic ethics in the practices of allowing sources to set rules on the use of quotations and the sharing of story drafts. We’d like to remind everyone of some core principles and lay down guidelines that should govern those practices at The Post.

The central principle of our journalism is to report the facts as closely as we can ascertain them. We should never do or promise to do anything that would shade the truth or call into question our commitment to reporting the news accurately and fairly. That is essential to the trust we enjoy from the people we work for, our readers.

In response to the issues raised recently, we are modifying the relevant sections of The Post Stylebook. Please read this carefully. We encourage further discussion and will incorporate these specific points in upcoming sessions of Newsroom University.

Marcus Liz John Shirley Peter

Our objective in quoting people is to capture both their words and intended meaning accurately. That requires care in negotiating ground rules with sources.  We do not allow sources to change the rules governing specific quotations after the fact. Once a quote is on the record, it remains there.

Sometimes, a source will agree to be interviewed only if we promise to read quotations back to the source before publication. We should not allow sources to change what was said in an original interview, although accuracy or the risk of losing an on-the-record quote from a crucial source may sometimes require it. A better and more acceptable alternative is to permit a source to add to a quotation and then explain that sequence to readers. If you find yourself in this gray area, consult with your editor.

Some reporters share sections of stories with sources before publication, to ensure accuracy on technical points or to catch errors. A science writer, for instance, may read to a source a passage, or even much of a story, about a complex subject to make sure that it is accurate. But it is against our policy to share drafts of entire stories with outside sources prior to publication, except with the permission–which will be granted extremely rarely–of the Executive Editor or Managing Editor.

In negotiating terms of engagement with a source, reporters and editors should be prepared for everything they say or write, in any medium, on the telephone or in person, to become public. They should make no promises, agree to no compromises and offer no concessions that aren’t compatible with this policy and The Post’s standards. Clarity and straightforwardness in our communications with sources is essential.

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  • Joe

    Too late, Marcus. I canceled your odiferous rag last year. If you fire the editorial board, I might resubscribe.

  • carefulreader

    Sad that a newspaper once known for accountability reporting has come to this. It seems like some reporters at WaPo are more concerned with keeping their sources happy than trying to get at the truth. What is up with the "I've never had a dissatisfied customer" line? I thought the customers were the (dwindling number of) people who buy the paper?

  • Steve

    Don't see the issue with draft sharing. Why not allow a story to become more accurate by letting a source check? The reporter has the option of accepting or rejecting changes.

  • kob

    You wonder what's really going on here. Yes, sharing drafts isn't a great idea. But why all this fire and brimstone and journalism 101? What's the dynamic the led this memo?

  • Pingback: No, sources don’t get to approve quotes or drafts | Rob Pegoraro

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