Media Watch

Sour Notes

For a few weeks now, I've had possession of something editors at the Arizona Daily Star would rather I not have--notes from a reporter's interview on a story that ran in early September.

There's nothing sinister about the situation, and it's nothing that would cause the Star's top management to send some goons to rough me up until I give up the goods.

It's just that the Star has a policy--of at least 15 years' standing, I believe--that reporters should ditch their notes, erase their audio tapes and purge any electronic transcripts shortly after a story runs. That's because news operations don't like subpoenas any more than the rest of us--especially when the request involves a case in which the newspaper, radio or television station is not a defendant. And that's the story behind most subpoenas served on reporters and photographers, believe it or not.

The notes I have are pretty interesting. They came from, of all places, someone the reporter interviewed for the story. I suspect the source leaked them because he gave the reporter a lot of good detail--but very little of it made it into the paper.

Beyond the Star's written policy, it's been a fundamental of journalism that you never show your notes to the person you're interviewing. The reason: Just as every reporter knows "we're always better in rewrite," media-savvy sources sometimes think of what they said and wish they hadn't said it--or said it more diplomatically and eloquently.

When you've written the story, you might call the source back and check only on the quotes you used--to make sure the facts are accurate and the quotes are in context. But you'd never let a source "rewrite a quote."


It was pointed out to me that last week's column told people what Bob Cauthorn is doing for a living and which company he's with, but I neglected to say where he is physically.

He's still in San Francisco.


Dennis Joyce departed the Star's editorial page last week for the metro desk at the Tampa Tribune. His interim replacement, Ann Brown, is a pretty solid choice. Ann's another one of those old Catalina High School newspaper folks who got the basics from legendary newspaper advisor J.G. Carlton Jr. (Disclosure time: Ann and I were on the Trumpeteer staff at Catalina for a couple of years.)

The Star would be missing a bet if management didn't seriously consider putting her in the job. Her personal style is very similar to that former Star editorial page editor Susan Albright, who left in 1993 to become editor of the editorial pages at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. She's one of the more thoughtfully opinionated folks I've known in my lifetime, and walking proof that calm and steady is the best way to win an argument.

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