I'm probably revealing my age by saying this, but consider this column a variation of the old Art Linkletter bit, "Kids Say the Darndest Things."
Just change the name to: "Reporters and Their Sources Say the Darndest Things."
Exhibit I: Part of a journalist's function is to serve as a gatekeeper, to decide what the reader gets to read. Sometimes, in the role of gatekeeper, we paraphrase a quotation from a source in the interest of brevity, or because we're trying to keep the source from looking stupid or from embarrassing himself or herself.
P&I contacted Kim Shepherd, a spokeswoman for consultant Wilshire Associates Inc., about competitors' comments on Wilshire's relationship with the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board. In the story, the P&I reporter wrote: "Wilshire spokeswoman Kim Shepherd declined to comment on speculation from unnamed sources about Wilshire's client relationships."
I read that story before it ran, and I thought Ms. Shepherd's response was appropriate.
Ms. Shepherd, however, was not happy. She did not want us to play gatekeeper. She wanted us to use a direct quote in its entirety. So, here it is: "I won't dignify supposed comments from unnamed competitors who have no idea or information about our relationship with Mass PRIM."
Had I been Ms. Shepherd, I would have been grateful to the reporter for paraphrasing me. But Ms. Shepherd would rather let you, a player in the world of professionally managed money, read her undignified response. And now you have.
Exhibit II: Sometimes it is the journalist, not his or her source, who says the "darndest" thing.
Right around the time our reporter was seeking comment from Ms. Shepherd, another P&I reporter was calling a money management executive whose firm is supposedly part of a "sweep" investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
(Before I finish telling you this story, I'll be bold enough to go on record as saying I'd be hard-pressed to find any money manager willing to talk to a journalist for attribution about an SEC investigation of his or her firm.)
The reporter and the source played telephone tag for a few days. One day the money manager called back, and the reporter explained she had been calling for comment about the sweep, but added that her story was already done and gone. I don't know whether the money manager breathed an audible sigh of relief at that point, but I do know he then gave the reporter a little information on his firm and its dealings with the SEC.
Later, the P&I reporter called the money management firm again, this time seeking the executive's proper title. Later still, the money management exec called our reporter, angry that we were going to run a quote from him. The reporter stood firm: "You never said your comments were off the record," was her battle cry.
My response to the reporter: Of course he didn't say his comments were off the record. You told him it was too late, that the story was history. How was he to know you would find a way to pull the story back and insert his quote? (The story ultimately ran without mention of the man and his firm.)
The two examples above occurred in connection with two stories Pensions & Investments published in the Oct. 18 issue. If I can write a column based on two examples from one edition, just imagine how much goofy stuff happens in a year.