Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's the web, you can change the quote

Earlier today I made a post, The Oyster Opens, which points to an online article where I was misquoted. Since then I've had an email exchange with the reporter. I'm trying to get her to change the quote.

She won't.

Here's the email thread.
Hi Amanda,
You wrote:

"He says he pays Comcast about $100 a month, and feels that at that price he should have access wherever he is. "

What I actually said was that by paying Comcast $100 per month, I should have access to the Comcast Wi-Fi network at Logan Airport.

Your quote makes it sound like I feel that by paying Comcast, I'm entitled to free Wi-Fi everywhere.
Her response:
*From: *"Amanda Patterson"
*Date: *March 1, 2006 1:01:17 AM EST
*To: *"Steve Garfield"
*Subject: RE: Wi-Fi

I'm sorry that you feel misrepresented. I just checked my notes,
and you started out that section on the airport, but by the time
you got to the money you pay comcast it wasn't clear to me that
you only meant at the airport. I try to report accurately.
technically its a paraphrase, though I don't suppose that makes
you feel better.

2 other things, 1. paying comcast $100 a month doesn't make you
sound like a wifi freeloader to me
2. if the city does do this, we'll probably all pay a subscription
fee and have access all around.

Again, sorry you feel misrepresented.
My reply:
Hi Amanda,
Your story is online, can't you change it to reflect what I really mean?

It's not like it's printed out and there's no way to change it.

If the city does this there is no reason to believe that we'll all pay. It's very possible that they will have a FREE tier, and then a paid tier for faster access.

When you place something in quotes it's supposed to be a verbatim record of what was said and not a 'paraphrase.'

See Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing, Purdue University Online Writing Lab.

I don't think I'll hear back.

After asking to speak to an editor, they deleted the quote in question and noted the correction:
Correction, March 1, 2006: This article originally and incorrectly stated that Steve Garfield paid $100 dollars a month to Comcast, and that he felt that money should gain him access to wifi “where ever he goes”. He intended to address the lack of access at Logan Airport, not city wide wifi.
Thanks for fixing that.

I think the correction is poorly written. I don't like the part where it says, "He intended to address the lack of access at Logan Airport, not city wide wifi."

That makes it sound like I misspoke or something. Guess what? I actually said what I meant.

Update 3/9/06:
Please read the comments on this post. I was wrong about the "place something in quotes" comment. The part where the reporter incorrectly wrote what I said wasn't in quotes.


  1. Good job holding their feet to the fire!

  2. ...gosh Steve, how can someone get so upset about such a little misquote, she thought she knew what you ment... HA, likely story (and you can quote me).

    Keep up the good work! And don't let them get away with it! No matter who "them" is and what ever "it" is!

  3. Hi Rick,
    I'm not upset.

    Take that back! ;-)

    The point is that we can't stand idly by when injustice happens. If I don't speak for me, who will.

    You can't use quotes on paraphasing. That's just wrong.

    But what was worse was the response that she wasn't going to change it.

  4. Mr. Garfield,

    I no longer have the original copy of the article, but I believe that, while the first part of the sentence was a direct quote, the second part did not contain quotation marks and was a paraphrase of what you had said.

    I wasn't there for the conversation, nor do I have access to Ms. Patterson's notes. So I won't claim to know who is right in the matter.

    However, I would remind you that, if your argument is only "I know what I said," and Ms. Patterson's is only "I know what I heard," then neither side necessarily has full providence over the truth.

    In this day and age, it's easy to revise history with a few keystrokes. But there's an argument to be made that journalists should stick to their guns.

    As a disclosure, I should mention that I also work on the Oyster, and I suggested the correction.

    But I didn't want to step into the fray on that end (again, I don't know who's right), but I did want to assert that journalists with a spine are--big picture--a good thing.

  5. Hi Craig,

    You believe the first part of the sentence was a direct quote, but it wasn't.

    That's my point.

    I have a copy right in the blog post:

    "He says he pays Comcast about $100 a month, and feels that at that price he should have access wherever he is. "

    I did not say that.

    You probably believe it was a direct quote since Amanda put it in quotes. That was wrong.

    She says she was working form her notes. If she was working from a tape recording she'd know exactly what to quote.

    What is worse is her initial refusal to change it.

    Journalists with a spine might be a good thing, but journalists who refuse to correct a misquote, as stated by the person being interviewed are not. They are writing fiction.

  6. I looked into our records. The original paragraph read:

    Steve Garfield, a video producer from J.P. can think of lots of reasons that the city should go wireless. “It would make the city such a welcoming place,” Garfield said. He recently landed in Ft. Lauderdale airport, where the Internet was free. “I was totally happy and connected.” He says he pays Comcast about $100 a month, and feels that at that price he should have access wherever he is. “Places that do free wifi on their own, they are getting people to come,” says Garfield. He meets with his video blog group, The Boston Media Makers, at Sweet Finnish a free wifi bakery café in J.P.

    The parts that are not within quotation marks (including the disputed sentence) are paraphrases. This is standard journalism procedure. Direct quotes convey—verbatim—what a person says. Paraphrasing conveys—using different words—what a person meant.

    Again, I can't argue as to whether she got your meaning right. If she was unsure of your meaning, she should have followed up. But I will argue that A) We’re not arguing about a direct quote, but a question of meaning, and B) If a journalist truly feels that they are right, they should stand by their story. Otherwise, we’re letting the participants change history.

  7. Hi Craig,
    Thanks for the follow up.

    You're right about the direct quote thing.

    What happened was that I made a direct quote from the article in my email, to show exactly what was printed.

    Then later in my follow up post I incorrectly thought that that was the initial quote from the article.