Imagine that you work for a tech company, and just completed an interview for an important publication. You thought you nailed the briefing, but just to be sure, you decide to ask the reporter to see the article, or at least the section you are being quoted in, before it goes to print.
Sounds crazy right? In most cases, the audacious request would be denied.
What if you did not even need to go to the reporter, hat in hand, to ask for this - or send in your tech PR rep to do the same - but the notes were sent to you, as a matter of routine, so that you could edit those provocative sound bites and remove anything troublesome?
Not bloody likely, is it?
I thought about this as I read an article in the NY Times, earlier this week, while relaxing on the beach near my girlfriend's summer house. The article covered a practice that is now common in political reporting (I was already in a political frame of mind, as we had just watched the middling political campaign movie The Ides of March).
According to the NY Times:
The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative. They are sent by e-mail from the Obama headquarters in Chicago to reporters who have interviewed campaign officials under one major condition: the press office has veto power over what statements can be quoted and attributed by name.
Most reporters, desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists, grudgingly agree...The verdict from the campaign — is often no, Barack Obama does not approve this message.
The push and pull over what is on the record is one of journalism’s perennial battles. But those negotiations typically took place case by case, free from the red pens of press minders. Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations.
So what is going on here? Why are the worlds of tech and political media relations so different?
It all gets back to supply and demand, or what I like to call the marketplace of information. In technology, it is generally a buyer's market for vendor news - there are so many companies, products and news releases. Reporters generally have their pick, unless it is the biggest news from the biggest vendors, and can call the shots.
However, in the heat of campaign season, everyone wants to know what is happening with the race and the top candidates. It is a seller's market for the news, and the ones with access and info have more sway.