Just a quick post before I take off for the night. I spotted this interesting piece about the ethics of changing quotes on Poynter Online. The piece, on whether or not it is ethical to clean up quotes in stories, stemmed from two columns by (and responses to) Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell about the paper’s policy after a Post reporter cleaned up the words from a quote that a Post columnist used verbatim. Now, I’ve seen quotes cleaned up a little in the past, with small grammatical slipups like “it” is changed to “its”. But what I thought was really key in this debate is the way the quote was altered:

Several readers of an early edition of the July 28 Sports section noticed different versions of the same quote from Redskins running back Clinton Portis in a story by Howard Bryant and a column by Mike Wise. In Bryant’s story, Portis said: “I don’t know how anybody feels. I don’t know how anybody’s thinking. I don’t know what anyone else is going through. The only thing I know is what’s going on in Clinton Portis’s life.” Wise quoted him as saying: “I don’t know how nobody feel, I don’t know what nobody think, I don’t know what nobody doing, the only thing I know is what’s going on in Clinton Portis’s life.”

I was really shocked by the difference between the two. Bryant’s quote not only fixes the grammar, but in my eyes changed the meaning of Portis’ quote. Both writers give compelling reasons for doing what they did. What are your thoughts on the situation? And in fixing quotes in general?

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