Media Progression or Regression?

By Matter

A recent piece on the UK website The Guardian, took a shot at its media brethren across the pond – specifically the New York Times and LA Times – for their public acknowledgement that each was reviewing their policies around the practice of allowing reporters to submit quotes for approval by presidential contenders’ communications teams before publication. The Times itself disclosed this in a front page article in which it noted that a “battle” is being waged between the media and the Obama / Romney camps and why reporters would go along with this policy.  “Most reporters, desperate to pick the brains of the president’s top strategists, grudgingly agree. After the interviews, they review their notes, check their tape recorders and send in the juiciest sound bites for review.”

The article noted that in addition to the “Old Gray Lady” (The Times), Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair and Reuters have all consented to interviews under such terms.

For its part, Reuters told the Guardian that it opposed the “wholly unacceptable” practice so whether they are consenting to it on a reporter-by-reporter basis, is anyone’s guess. The Associated Press also decried the policy. In addition, Web publisher Buzzfeed said it tried to avoid it, and RealClearPolitics said it was discussing the issue with staff.

So what happens during and after the review? For one, stories are inevitably delayed and in this era of real-time reporting and 24 hour news cycles, what reporter wants to get beaten by a competitor?

Worse, the quotes submitted for review come back watered down, altered and often void of any sizzle that might evoke controversy. More often than not, the editor’s red pen comes out and changes are made simply because they can be.

So who holds the power now?

What does this say about the current and future role of the “Fourth Estate”?

Never mind yellow journalism, are we headed toward the era of “vanilla journalism”?

How will this practice migrate to social media reporting and reaction?  While “traditional” media outlets report on a 24X7 cycle, the Twitter-ati “report” by the minute and second.  How will politicians and their communications advisers who now routinely demand final veto powers to published quotes monitor and react to information pushed out on twitter, facebook and elsewhere?

Looking beyond November and the campaign trail, if this policy gains traction, what is to stop it from continuing and expanding into other segments. Will powerful CEOs, Hollywood divas and other luminaries adopt a similar mindset?

How will this change the role of the reporter? Of the communications professional?

How do you see this playing out? Let me know your thoughts on this issue and whether you have a different take on it.