With Quote Approval, A Lesson Learned

In the wake of a media scandal, journalism professors in Boston will finally be able to answer the age-old question: “When will we ever use this in real life?”

A recent New York Times article by Jeremy Peters says that top news publications such as Reuters, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and even the Times have admitted consenting to allow sources—specifically White House officials and those on the campaign trail—to approve or edit their quotes prior to their publishing. The announcement that the organizations compromised integrity to guarantee interviews sparked plenty of backlash from journalists across the country, as well as from citizens who simply felt they’d been mislead.

Journalism 101 practically forbids a reporter from allowing a source to approve or revise on-the-record remarks because such practices undermine the media’s watchdog responsibilities. Revelations that this has been happening at major media outlets has been a nightmare for the organizations, but it’s been a blessing for collegiate journalism curriculum.

As the fall semester looms, journalism faculty are injecting their lesson plans with applicable quandaries, real-life examples, and social media in order to educate students about ethics and the art of reporting.

“It’s a teaching moment,” says Walter Robinson, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University. “Things like this give us a better sense of what’s not permissible, an example of how you shouldn’t handle sources.”

Real-life situations, such as the one Peters publicized, help to solidify ethics and good journalism practices for aspiring journalists, Robinson says, because it fosters discussion that “helps students understand more vividly what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Studies will continue to focus on new technologies and means of communication in the hopes of arming students with the tools and know-how they need to navigate the digital age in addition to reinforcing core journalistic beliefs, according to Robinson.

And professors, like Robinson, will ensure that even though the counts may be short (sometimes 140 characters or less), the messages—and their impact—will be long-lasting.