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DEAR READER: This press isn't the university's, and this accuracy policy isn't 'quote approval'

Friday, July 27, 2012 | 3:52 p.m. CDT; updated 5:01 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 28, 2012

*An earlier version of this column included incorrect information about how books published by the University of Missouri Press are printed. The press contracts with outside vendors for printing.

Dear Reader,

Consider this letter as correcting the record – actually, correcting the rumor mill:

MoreStory


Related Media

  • The Columbia Missourian print edition is not dead and has nothing to do with the fortunes of the University of Missouri Press.
  • Missourian reporters do not give "quote approval" rights to sources.

The University of Missouri Press

It’s in the news, but it doesn’t print this newspaper.

In May, UM System President Tim Wolfe decided to shutter the operation. The announcement produced a stir locally and across the nation. A new plan for a more digital-based and student-involved press was met with as much approval among critics as cola lovers left with a bad taste when New Coke was introduced in the ‘80s.

Did Wolfe’s decision mean the Missourian would stop printing? I heard the question a time or two in June. I heard it from extended family members during vacation. I was asked about it this week.

The Jefferson City News Tribune prints the Missourian and has done so for about five years. Before that, the Missourian had its own press; I spent many post-midnights there as pressmen worked life-saving miracles on antique equipment.

By 12:30 a.m. on press nights, Missourian pages are transmitted to the News Tribune, where metal plates are made. The plates go on cylinders. When the press rolls, ink and newsprint meet cylinders to produce your morning reading.

The newsprint comes in giant rolls. The whole process is known as web offset printing.*

Quote approval vs. accuracy check

A not-so-nice term – quote approval – entered the national discussion nearly two weeks ago when The New York Times reported on the practice on the presidential campaign trail.

According to the article, top officials in the Obama and Romney campaigns are demanding — and receiving — veto power over direct quotes in exchange for access to interviews. They can strip the quotes or reword them. That way, the campaigns can strip out anything not "on message."

Quote approval cedes power to the politicians. That’s not right.

One of the core values you should expect from journalists is independence from faction. Sure, reporters negotiate all the time. Give me this nugget before anyone else, and I’ll sit on it for an hour or a day. Talk to me off the record, and then we can do a more formal, quotable interview.

This isn’t the slippery slope; it’s the bottom of the cliff.

You expect reporters and editors, not political strategists, to make decisions about what’s in an article. You might not like a journalist’s choices, but at least you know who should receive the complaints. (The Missourian even runs the name of the supervising editor at the bottom of stories.)

For decades, the Missourian has had a policy of pre-publication review. Sources are regularly contacted after an article has been written, and quotes or other facts are read back. The question behind every quote: Is this correct?

"It is NOT an invitation for sources to become editors," the policy reads. "It IS primarily for our benefit and the benefit of our readers. Research shows that both readers and sources appreciate our efforts to get things right."

Sometimes a source might say, "Well, yes, but I wish I hadn’t said it." The supervising editor can hear out the reasons and decide whether to publish. Oftentimes, that call to a source can provide deeper context around the quotes.

Accuracy matters. So does independence. Paying for access to politicians through quote approval does neither.

Fortunately, the response nationally has been negative. Several news chains said they either never accepted the practice or were revising their standards to discourage it. 

Tom


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Comments

Clair Willcox July 27, 2012 | 5:12 p.m.

Mr. Warhover has done nothing to clarify things by confusing University Printing Services, which is exactly what its name implies, and the University of Missouri Press, which is a book publisher that contracts with outside vendors to print its books. They have no connection whatsoever. This is the kind of gaffe that doesn't inspire confidence in the use of the "student laboratory model" of publishing used by the Missourian and proposed by Speer Morgan and Brian Foster as a replacement for the University Press.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 27, 2012 | 8:05 p.m.

There are times where "quote approval" might be quite handy. Here's one:

A long time ago when I was a reserve cop in Columbia, a Missourian reporter interviewed several reserves including me...as a group. Several questions were asked and all of us, honored to be interviewed for our community efforts, were quite open, complete, and honest with our answers.

The reporter asked each of us "Why did you become a reserve officer?" Each of us replied, but one fellow gave one of the most obnoxious, poor reasons to be a reserve officer I can imagine. No need to go into what he said, but it surely was an extraordinarily poor reason cops should definitely NOT have.

In this very paper, the quote was attributed to me, Michael Williams. In print. In public.

Problem is, I said no such thing...another guy said it.

Needless to say, a couple of sergeants and one lieutenant had a rather long talk with me; fortunately, they also interviewed other reserves that were present.

I was "exonerated", but not one single member of the reading public ever learned that particular fact.

To my knowledge, I've only talked to a reporter one other time.

And without "quote approval", that's quite enough.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 27, 2012 | 10:56 p.m.

I think I'm pretty clear on Mr. Warhover's explanation.

You see, the Missourian is printed on a big roll of Charmin -- a specially big roll made just for newspaper companies. It's not quite as big as "times forever," but almost.

Charmin, being TP, is less expensive to make than book paper, which is used by the University Press. That's why the University Press is being closed down, but not the Missourian.

It's all about the difference between the cost of TP versus the cost of book paper.

Because the Missourian is printed on Charmin, the university can still afford to print it. But because the University Press prints on book paper, it's no longer affordable.

Here's what I don't get. It seems to me like all-digital would be less expensive than either book paper OR Charmin -- especially two-ply.

So after the Curators do the cost analysis -- Charmin vs. digital -- will the Missourian still be safe?

Or will we be back here next year with people rallying to save the Missourian using the cry Mr. Whipple made famous: "Please Don't Squeeze the Charmin!"

(In this case, please don't squeeze the Missourian, which is printed on Charmin.)

More intriguingly, will Speer Morgan replace Tom Warhover? And will he switch to one-ply for the savings?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 28, 2012 | 6:20 a.m.

Tom:

Who owns what around here still seems to be a point of public confusion. I know you have explained things concerning the Missourian; in one case because I asked you to (and, as I said then, I appreciated your prompt response).

The Missourian is legally held by a private, non-profit entity. My understanding is that this same entity does NOT own KOMU. Is KOMU owned by University of Missouri or is it actually directly owned by the State of Missouri? Does that make any difference? Keep reading.

An older (in broadcast years) TV station, WOI-TV (ABC network affiliate), was owned not by its operator, Iowa State University, but by the State of Iowa. When the State of Iowa got hard up for cash they sold WOI-TV to privatization. The station is still operating.

Iowa State University didn't believe that could happen! When it did, they petitioned their viewers to mount a drive to save the station from privatization. The response? "We don't care who owns the station, so long as it continues to broadcast."

What do you think KOMU's viewers would say under similar circumstances? (I'm not asking for an answer.)

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover July 28, 2012 | 7:57 a.m.

Ms. Willcox: I don't think I referred to University Printing Services. To clarify:

University Printing Services makes copies of documents. It sells banners and posters, envelopes, etc. To risk another comparison, it's the Kinkos of the university. Its site is here: http://ps.missouri.edu/

University of Missouri Press makes books. The process it uses is commonly referred to as "letter-fed direct press" -- sheets of paper vs rolls of newsprint.

Mike Martin further explains the differences. Mike, I'm surprised you didn't add the obvious re-use option of newspapers for those who keep birds in cages.

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover July 28, 2012 | 8:01 a.m.

Mr. Williams, your experience is what the accuracy check policy is intended to prevent. Done correctly, the reporter would have caught that he or she attributed the information to the wrong person. You should have been contacted, read the quote, and asked whether that's what you said. Please accept my apologies.

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover July 28, 2012 | 8:09 a.m.

You got it right, Mr. Smith: The Missourian is a 501c3 not-for-profit incorporated as the Missourian Publishing Asssociation. It's also an affiliate of the university, which means some of its business operations are done by the university. (Example: A contract usually needs to run through unviersity lawyers.)

KOMU is wholly owned by the board of curators of the University of Missouri.

The operations of both are similar in that we're community-based and commercially operated.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 28, 2012 | 9:03 a.m.

@ Tom:

Thanks for the information about KOMU ownership. I would assume that KOMU would NOT be as vulnerable to an unwelcome sale as WOI-TV was.

But now, Tom, in your response to Ms. Wilcox, you've opened another can of worms. I'm sitting here looking at a hard-bound (in school colors, silver and gold) book titled "UM-Rolla: A History Of MSM/UMR" by Lawrence O. Christensen and Jack B. Ridley. MU's History Department knows Christensen, a highly respected historian.

So? The publisher is given as University of Missouri Printing Services, not University of Missouri Press. Who holds the copyright? The curators (I suppose that's done with many things.)

There's a joke among our alumni that this book (copyright 1983) was obviously not read by the curators prior to its publication - or it would never have seen publication! It destroys myths about both MSM and University of Missouri, but it is enlightening. It tells us that in 1915 our campus sued the curators in the Missouri Supreme Court - and won. In a 1948 "plebiscite" at which our students, with full coverage by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, voted to sever connections with MU. That episode turned out rather nasty, as it cost some professors at MSM their jobs.

So, which agency actually makes the books, the Press, the Printing Service, or both? Or is some of all of it farmed out?

There SHOULD be at least one copy of the book at Ellis Library; it was published in limited edition and existing copies are rare.

(Report Comment)
Ter Stanton July 28, 2012 | 11:00 a.m.

But this piece is written as if the Press is a printing company, which further confuses people. The Press can't print the Missourian because it is not a printer. The paper issue is not relevant Also books can be printed offset and from rolls even if Jeff City press isn't set up for books.

As for the approval process, I agree there is no ethical problem. But in practice it can be difficult. When I was on the Missourian I once had to read a quote back to the father of an accident victim. I admit I did not always follow the policy. But student reporters make so so many errors it is a good policy. I don't think pros need to do it. Inevitably it is going to affect coverage.

(Report Comment)
Clair Willcox July 28, 2012 | 11:07 a.m.

Mr. Westhover:

You are mistaken, and I urge you to do some research. The University of Missouri Press is a book publisher and does not "make" its own books. Like most university presses, it has no printing presses, and as I said in my earlier comment, it contracts with vendors outside the university for typesetting, printing, and binding. You are referring to University Printing Services when you say, "The process it uses is commonly referred to as "letter-fed direct press" -- sheets of paper vs rolls of newsprint." Incidentally, that is not the process used to print University of Missouri Press books. They are made either through traditional offset printing or through recently developed digital printing technology. I have some claim to expertise in this matter because I have worked for the University Press for the last 23 years.

I look forward to seeing a prominent correction of the error in the print edition of the Missourian next week.

(Mr.) Clair Willcox

(Report Comment)
Clair Willcox July 28, 2012 | 11:15 a.m.

Mr. Warhover:

My apologies for mistyping your name in my previous comment.

Clair Willcox

(Report Comment)
Clair Willcox July 28, 2012 | 1:17 p.m.

Mr. Smith:

I realize that your overall point bears mostly on the university's policies regarding intellectual property, but the history of the Rolla campus by Christensen and Ridley that you refer to is a good example of the confusion here. To my knowledge, that book had nothing to do with the University of Missouri Press. My bet is that it was commissioned by UM-R0lla (its name at the time), which had it printed by University Printing Services. Chris and Jack surely had colleagues read the manuscript for factual accuracy, but there was probably no formal peer review as required by the University of Missouri Press and other members of the Association of American University Presses. Incidentally, if the book was a "work for hire," the rights are held by the Rolla campus and presumably by extension the University of Missouri, though this case seems fairly complicated.

The staff at Printing Services might object to having their operation described as a Kinko's, and Mr. Warhover may hear from some of them before long. If you follow the link provided by Mr. Warhover, you will find a button at the top labeled "Offset Submissions." If I'm not mistaken, this refers to traditional ink-press printing, and it implies that Printing Services still has its own printing presses.

The first paragraph of Terry Stanton's comment above is an accurate summary of the problem here.

Clair Willcox

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 28, 2012 | 1:19 p.m.

"Done correctly, the reporter would have caught that he or she attributed the information to the wrong person. You should have been contacted, read the quote, and asked whether that's what you said."
__________________

I may not understand what "done correctly" means.

The reporter was 1 of 7 in a group. I remember names being taken, but NO contact information was obtained; that is, there would be few ways, if any, for the reporter to contact me directly except through the police department (and I only worked every-other-weekend and was not there on a routine basis). Indeed, since we were in uniform at a shooting competition, we were in some semblance of "official" capacity; even if asked, I would not have given any personal contact information.

The fact is that in the absence of videotape or voice tape, there is NO way for a reporter (or me, for that matter) to settle a he-said-she-said disagreement. All we would have are hastily scribbled notes (NOT written by me) that I would say were incorrect, but the reporter would say ARE correct. There is no arbiter except for an editor in your capacity...but the editor was not there. I've read too many statements to the effect "The newspaper stands by its story" to not know which side an editor will often lean. Indeed, when I see such words in a newspaper, I tend to favor the aggrieved person; And THAT is a credibility issue I hope a news organization would worry about.

My only saving grace was there were others present to verify my story. Without those other reserve officers, I would have been helpless in my defense. Quite frankly, I was in serious trouble and may have lost my reserve commission.

This experience is the main reason I would NEVER speak to a reporter on anything except deep background...and perhaps not even then since even "deep background" can be screwed up.

Missourian (and other) reporters and editors wish to be the final arbiters on "what was said". That's fine.....it's your newspaper.

But, I think your system is flawed because there is information you need in the public interest that is not coming to you because you wish to call all the publishing shots. People like me will not tolerate that one-sided of a deal. It's one thing for me and a reporter to disagree on what was said; it's quite another for that disagreement to be made public and, therefore, becomes "truth" that can never be undone.

All in all, this situation is not acceptable to me.

(Report Comment)
Thomas Dillingham July 28, 2012 | 1:52 p.m.

Mr. Warhover's comments about the University of Missouri Press are possibly the most bizarre (except for President
Wolfe's) that I have seen in this whole controversy. Many have already protested the confusion by President Wolfe and others of the Press with a printing operation. Surely anyone who knows anything about publishing would know the difference between the fully staffed editorial entity known as the University of Missouri Press and the printers who finally produce the books that have been acquired, edited, proofread, and sent to the printers. In spite of earlier protests, here comes Mr. Warhover, who surely should know better, to write the following:
"The University Press operation can’t handle those rolls. Its press takes sheets of paper and prints directly onto them. The unimaginative but accurate description for this process is sheet-fed direct printing." There is no possible relevance to that statement, since no knowledgable person has ever claimed that the University of Missouri Press "takes sheets of paper" anywhere! Since Mr. Warhover's newspaper has waited several weeks before publishing any serious treatment of this controversy (and I still wonder why?), maybe we have to conclude that he still believes that somehow people are protesting that there will no longer be printing services--look again, Mr. Warhover!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 28, 2012 | 4:04 p.m.

Oh no! Now Mr. Whipple is upset! Got this email from him today:

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook!

"Mr. Warhover has completely confused people about the softness, the squeezableness, and the gentleness of Charmin toilet tissue. By comparing rolls of newsprint to rolls of Charmin, he has people thinking that next time they -- well, you know -- the feeling will be decidedly more harsh and unpleasant than what they are normally used to.

"It may be okay to line your birdcage with the Missourian, and even read it in the can. But that's where we at Charmin draw the line.

"We urge Mr. Warhover to retract his comparison of Missourian newsprint to our soft, cuddly, infinitely squeezable bathroom tissue.

"All this talk about the need to cut costs by eliminating paper from the equation -- well, you can just imagine the impact that could have on our business, especially if customers think we're planning a new 'digital' model."

Sincerely,

Mr. Whipple
The Charmin Guy
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yG-y8poT...

(Report Comment)
Ter Stanton July 28, 2012 | 4:39 p.m.

Needless to say, if I had gotten the sex/gender (there are quibbles about the appropriate term) wrong about one of the main figures in one of my articles in the J101 class (when I was at the Missourian, we always had to ask a source if they wanted to be Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.) I would have gotten an automatic F! I salute Mr. Willcox for his subtle correction.

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover July 28, 2012 | 5:04 p.m.

Mr. Willcox and others: I seriously screwed up. I relied on a bad source and on my own recollection. (I followed the accuracy check policy, by the way, but with someone who didn't have the knowledge I thought he did.)

Please accept my apologies in furthering the confusion.

The main point I was trying to make -- that the Missourian has nothing to do with the University of Missouri Press -- holds.

Tom

ps: There won't be a correction in the print edition because the error won't be repeated there, thanks to these comments online.

(Report Comment)
Ter Stanton July 28, 2012 | 5:21 p.m.

Whoa! It looks like all the inaccurate things said about printing have been scrubbed. Those were factual errors. What about people who had read the original version and were misled and never will revisit the new posting? To me, an honest correction or clarification should say what was said in the original posting, why it might have been incorrect, and what the actual facts are. Otherwise, you potentially leave a lot of people misinformed.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 28, 2012 | 6:22 p.m.

@ Clair Wilson:

Thank you. Your explanation makes sense. I suspicion that the project, including the services of Christensen and Ridley, was commissioned by the then MSM-UMR Alumni Association (today, the Miner Alumni Association). However, a leading page in the book clearly states that the rights belong to University of Missouri Curators (perhaps a legal technicality).

To those who are alumni of the campus, the book provides some entertaining reading, including the sections on campus life, 1870-1983. Our students actually had lives!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 28, 2012 | 8:09 p.m.

Whoa! is right. This column has been digitally wiped!

Gone: all the references to Charmin.

Scrubbed: all the differences between newsprint and copy paper.

Erased: All the stuff about web offset vs. sheet fed printing.

I can see the scandalous headline now: THE CHARMIN EFFECT: Missourian editors scrub errors from controversial column.

"'Now my column's fresh as a baby's bottom,' Warhover tells confused readers, in first-ever demo of new 'digital wipe' technology."

(I knew they were working on a cheaper alternative to TP. I just knew it! Now Mizzou will patent it and only Speer Morgan will get a cut.)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 29, 2012 | 12:21 a.m.

Flaws in the system.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 29, 2012 | 12:54 a.m.

As many home owners or renters may know, most toilets are of ceramic construction. (The technical classification is "sanitary ware.")

A research program is now in progress at the Materials Research Center at MS&T to achieve a flush toilet having "digital wiping." :)

(Report Comment)

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