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When two versions of a quotation don’t quite agree

03/16/2014 5:00 PM

03/16/2014 7:42 PM

When readers see quotation marks in The Kansas City Star, they generally expect the words between to be an exact representation of what was actually said. That’s hardly controversial.

Multiple readers contacted me on March 5 to point out a minor discrepancy between two different versions of the same quote in that day’s Sports Daily.

Writing about the previous day’s Royals preseason game against the Cincinnati Reds in Surprise, Ariz., Royals beat writer Andy McCullough quoted manager Ned Yost speaking about Danny Duffy’s performance:

“I didn’t like his location in the first inning,” he said. “His location in the second inning was really good. He got some pitches up. In the first inning, he was just off a bit. And some of those pitches could have been called strikes. But where he got hurt was up in the zone.”

Columnist Vahe Gregorian rendered the quote this way:

“I didn’t like his location in the first inning,” manager Ned Yost said, adding, “You know, he was just off a little bit. And some of those pitches probably could have been called strikes. But where he got hurt were kind of pitches up in the zone.”

No, these aren’t earth-shakingly dissimilar. But there’s no question that the two aren’t exactly identical. One — or both — must be a slight paraphrase, and both use ellipsis by punctuation or construction differently.

The Star follows The Associated Press Stylebook. Its entry on quotations, in part:

Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution.

In general, avoid fragmentary quotes. If a speaker's words are clear and concise, favor the full quote. If cumbersome language can be paraphrased fairly, use an indirect construction, reserving quotation marks for sensitive or controversial passages that must be identified specifically as coming from the speaker.

I discussed this with editors in the Sports department. Assistant sports editor Mark Zeligman replied:

I talked to Vahe and Andy, and they both had basically the same answer: They take out “uh, you know, well, kind of” as long as nothing is taken out of context. When they do that, a few words might be different between the two of them. It’s a judgment call on a quote-by-quote basis on when to do that. The key thing is to be fair to the person they’re interviewing. Also the tape might be garbled occasionally and they might miss a few words here or there. (By the way, they both taped Yost.)

Reasonable arguments can be made on either side of the question when it comes to removing meaningless words and phrases such as “you know” and “um” in quoting someone. Few among us have the gift of speech that pours out of our mouths as smoothly as carefully-wrought prose. And we’ve all seen examples of writers who notate a speaker’s each and every tic and inconsequential gaffe to subject the person to ridicule.

I wasn’t able to locate an independent recording of Yost speaking here, and I frankly think taking this too far would be making a federal case out of something ultimately trivial.

This is an example of where audio recordings make the question moot. This obviously isn’t a case of grave journalistic malfeasance, though it would have been nice if editors working on the section had noticed the difference and clarified it before publication.

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