A couple of weeks ago Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle wrote a hit piece on Carlos Gomez, blaming him for the bulk of the Astros’ problems. That was bad (i.e. inaccurate) enough, but the column was made worse by Smith’s inclusion of a quote of broken English from Gomez that seemed to serve no other purpose but to cast Gomez in a bad light. In doing so, Smith eschewed any number of techniques journalists use in such situations to deliver a somewhat more empathetic story, even if they’re being critical. Paraphrasing, brackets, etc.
Yesterday the editor of the Chronicle offered an apology about the column and talked about trying to do better in this regard. It was delivered to Richard Prince at the Journal-Isms blog:
“With regards to quoting Carlos Gomez: We sincerely apologize for any offense that was taken. Our writers are encouraged to adhere to AP style rules, which are quoted below. I reviewed the rules myself after this arose and found the guidelines on quotes to be less than adequate for a community like ours, full of immigrants from all over the world, and for whom English is often a second language. I’ve asked some top editors to review this policy, research best practices, and recommend guidance for all of our writers in the future. We always want to be respectful of those we are interviewing.”
As Prince notes, major style guides hold that quotes should not be altered, but common practice involves using paraphrasing to convey the meaning of quotes which don’t come out cleanly as a means of not portraying the subject in a less-than-flattering light. Obviously a lot of judgment is used in such cases, but as he and his sources note, it also seems like the style guides are in need of an update or a review about such matters.