As an exasperated Casey Stengel asked the bumbling 1962 New York Mets baseball team he managed: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
We should be asking America’s newspaper establishment that question about its bungling play, not in a mere game, but in a fundamental responsibility of journalism: conducting untainted, straightforward interviews. Unfortunately, those running major newspapers and blogs these days have gone all wonky on getting honest, informative responses from public and corporate figures on important who-what-where-when-and-why questions. This is because more and more publications are ceding control of interviews to interviewees, allowing them to rewrite or outright exclude from the story anything they said, even if the response was recorded! Sheesh – can’t anybody here play this game?
Yes, young journalists can – and are. Editors of student papers are beginning to reassert reportorial ethics by rebelling against the absurdity of quote approval. The editors of the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, for example, declared this fall that they’ll no longer submit quotations by Harvard honchos back to them for cleansing. Calling the shift a matter of trust with readers, the editors rightly noted that quote approval defeats the ability of their reporters “to capture and channel the forthright, honest words of Harvard’s decision-makers to all those who might be affected.”
Likewise, the editor of Princeton’s student paper has halted the use of email interviews favored by the school’s self-protective officials. The prevalence of email-only responses, he wrote, produces “stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning.”
Bingo! Now, if only some of this youthful integrity and journalistic gutsiness would rub-off on the poltroonery of America’s press elders.