For years, the Harvard Crimson has allowed school leaders to approve their quotes before publication and “as a result, their quotations have become less candid, less telling, and less meaningful,” the paper says.
Sometimes nothing is changed. But often, the quotations come back revised, to make the wording more erudite, the phrasing more direct, or the message more pointed. Sometimes the quotations are rejected outright or are rewritten to mean just the opposite of what the administrator said in the recorded interview.
The Crimson says it’s now “forbidding our reporters from agreeing to interviews on the condition of quote review without the express prior permission of the President or the Managing Editor.” Staffers are told that “as you arrange interviews with your sources, please be clear about these terms with them.”
Here is Harvard Crimson president Ben Samuels’ memo to staff:
As we get ready for the upcoming school year, we’re making an important policy change and reinforcing our commitment to two lapsed policies, all regarding our use of quotations. We hope that this renewed emphasis on transparent and uninfluenced quotations will enhance the quality of writing and reporting that we expect from everyone here at The Crimson.
As many of you know, we’ve seen an increase over the past several years in sources, especially Harvard administrators, who insist on reviewing their quotes prior to publication. When those administrators read their quotes, even quotes that Crimson reporters have recorded, they frequently ask that these quotes be modified./CONTINUES
Some of Harvard’s highest officials—including the president of the University, the provost, and the deans of the College and of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—have agreed to interviews with The Crimson only on the condition that their quotes not be printed without their approval. As a result, their quotes have become less candid, less telling, and less meaningful to our coverage. At the same time, sources have more and more frequently agreed to communicate only by email rather than in person or by phone, or have asked that their names not be used along with their comments. Even University spokespeople—employed to talk to the media—have routinely refused to have their names used in The Crimson, and Crimson reporters have agreed.
These troubling trends represent violations of two longstanding Crimson rules. First, our policies dictate that no reporter may quote from an email without indicating why the source could not be reached by phone instead and without express permission of their Board Chair, Managing Editor, or President. Second, those same policies say that the Managing Editor or the President must approve any article that quotes an anonymous source.
Both of these policies have been followed only laxly in recent years, and in the coming semester, we will insist that both are observed on a daily basis.
To increase our striving for frank and informative quotations, we add a new policy now. Effective immediately, no writer may agree to an interview on the terms that quotes cannot be published without the source’s approval without express permission of the Managing Editor or the President. I will send out the revised policies in a few weeks.
As you arrange interviews with your sources, please be clear about these terms with them. If you have any questions or concerns, as always, feel free to speak with us. We’re excited for the positive impact these changes will have on the organization.
Ben and Julie