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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Ignoring important words can distort meaning and intention of things people say

The importance of accuracy when quoting speakers is a basic lesson of journalism.

Over the past week, numerous journalists have shown they didn't pay attention when exposed to that lesson.

Perhaps their teachers didn't emphasize the need for accuracy in quotations.

Perhaps they didn't listen the day quotations were discussed.

Perhaps they skipped class that day.

Perhaps they didn't review their notes.

Perhaps they are slow to learn and didn't bother to study enough.

Perhaps they are careless and don't care whether they quote people accurately or not.

Perhaps they are dishonest and don't want to quote people correctly.

That one little word, "perhaps," was left out of many stories about the resignation of Joycelyn Elders. The lead paragraph of numerous stories said that Elders made a certain statement. But, when her exact words were quoted in following paragraphs, it was apparent to a careful reader that she had included the word "perhaps." Qualifying words and phrases must be taken into account, not only in direct quotes but also in indirect quotations and In paraphrases of quotations.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
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