Tory border force to 'pursue crime'

There was a great quote in one of our news stories today, attributed to Shadow Home Secretary David Davis:

“We would establish a dedicated UK border force with proper police powers to secure our borders and pursue crime, from human trafficking to drug smuggling.”

I was kind, and changed 'pursue' to 'tackle'. Not everyone who used the quote was quite as nice, though...

David Davis: Vows to pursue crime


Old Word Wolf said...

Are British editors allowed to change quoted material? This is frowned on over here (US reader)

JD said...

That's an interesting question. If the change is minor, is made to reflect more accurately what the speaker was trying to say, and the speaker would not object to the change, then yes, it may be acceptable under certain editors.

In this case, the original quote a) makes Davis look daft and b) distracts from the point he was trying to make, so there are arguments both for and against leaving it as is. I didn't make the change without checking with a colleague.

I am sure that American editors do a similar thing to some extent, even if it just means removing the 'ums' and 'ers' and 'wells' from the quote to make it easier to read.

Old Word Wolf said...

Yes, we eliminate the uhm's and ah's. But to make a substantial change to a substantial word -- you created a difference in meaning -- is considered a major error on the part of the editor. If the man said "pursue," and he's being quoted, then his language stands. The alternative is to remove the quotes and paraphrase. He did not say "tackle" and should not be presented as saying this -- no matter how kind an editor wishes to seem.
And p.s. At the risk a looking "daft" myself, why does "pursue" offend so much? It clearly conveys the idea of chasing down offending behaviors, methinks.

JD said...

'Pursue' offends because of the meaning 'seek to attain (a goal)'. It has connotations of pursuing a life of crime, which is not what you would want any sort of police force to do.

In terms of American editing, what if the speaker was to accidentally refer to someone by the wrong name? Or use 'infer' when 'imply' is the correct word? Or to say 'they is' instead of 'they are'? These sorts of mistakes are very common in speech, and I would be surprised if some American publications did not correct them in direct quotes as a matter of course. But maybe I am wrong.

Old Word Wolf said...

If a speaker misuses "imply" or "infer," and the error appears inside quote marks, the error stands. If an editor wishes to clean up the language or correct a misspoken fact, she removes quote marks and presents the statement as a paraphrase. I'm sure there are American (tabloid) editors who fail to practice this level of ethics in presenting quotes, but the standards of journalism -- news reporting -- dictate otherwise.

Over here, the primary meaning of "pursue" is to chase in a continuing effort to overtake or hunt down. No American, I daresay, would have read the original statement as connoting that the speaker might pursue a life of crime. After all, "crime" and "a life of crime" are two quite different items.

JD said...

I've just Googled 'pursue crime' and there are plenty of examples both of criminals pursuing crime and of the police pursuing crime. There are also a lot of examples of the police pursuing "crime prevention". How they can pursue both crime and crime prevention I'm not sure!

Anyway, It's a real mixed bag, and I'm not convinced that it's just a US/UK divide. But it would be good to hear from some other people on this. Anyone out there?

Gareth said...

I'm not in any way connected with either journalism or publishing, but as a layman I would side absolutely with Old Word Wolf on this one.

If you quote someone, you quote them exactly, regardless of whether what they said makes them look like an idiot. Anything in quotation marks should be reproduced verbatim.

Of course, in the case of pompous Tory politicians, you practically have a duty to dig up their most ridiculous quotes and make them look as stupid as possible. But that's a whole different topic.

JD said...

This is an interesting and balanced article on the subject:

I especially liked the following quote on changing quotes, by University of Oregon journalism professor Jon Franklin:

"I think journalists think more about it than readers, because we tend to confuse accuracy with truthfulness."

On the question of whether American journalists change quotes, it seems the answer is 'some do, some don't'. I imagine much the same is true over here (in the UK).