For journalists, copy approval is just an opportunity for PRs to make stories boring or self-serving

For many years I worked in the world of food and drink journalism (pubs, clubs, hotels, restaurants) and because it's not a highly technical area, my view on copy approval would be simple: none is required.

Copy approval: In almost all cases the answer should be 'no', argues Matthew Moggridge
Copy approval: In almost all cases the answer should be 'no', argues Matthew Moggridge

I've interviewed many a top chef (Ramsay, Novelli, Worrall Thompson, Blanc, Pierre-White and so on) and I don't recall handing the copy to the PR prior to publication.

From experience (of reluctantly agreeing to have the copy approved), the PR feels that he or she has the right to amend something and invariably they'll take out the jokes or anecdotes.

Worse still is the corporate PR who will simply alter the copy to show their client in the best possible light, adding in bits of corporate speak here and there, making everything politically correct and in some instances, insisting that capital letters are used where grammatically they wouldn't be there.

PRs often like their clients' names to be written in a specific way and journalists shouldn't allow it. The answer is "no".

One classic example of not seeking approval from the PR was when I interviewed the then head of Loch Fyne Restaurants. Without using the phrase ‘off the record’, in response to my question "so, what's the end game?", he answered: "I'll either flog it or float it."

I decided to use that as the headline and needless to say he was up in arms. No prior copy approval had been sought. He did say "I'll either flog it or float it" and I emblazoned it across the page in 48pt Helvetica Bold.

He wasn't pleased, to put it mildly.

Now, had I sent the article for approval he would have deleted any reference to flogging or floating the business and one could argue that the reader would have been poorer for not knowing the intentions of the business owner.

A lot of PR companies think that b2b magazines exist purely to publicise their new products and services. Sadly, there are magazines that pander to this view, others that charge for editorial, others that accept editorial in return for ads.

It goes on and on.

I now work on a highly technical magazine about steel production and when I write anything that I'm not 100 per cent ok with, I'll often send the article to the author and ask him or her to give it the once-over.

In my opinion that's fair as my current magazine is read by technical people and, therefore, things need to be right.

Generally though, certainly in non-technical subjects, the PR should not be given the go-ahead to basically transform 'pure editorial' (the view of the journalist writing the article) into what is basically an 'advertorial'.

Matthew Moggridge is the editor of Steel Times International

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