I’m of the opinion that journalists need to be careful to record facts as facts and opinion as opinion. Blurring the two is problematic as it can imply that something that’s little more than a hunch is based on empirical data, or that supposedly empirical data is in fact just a good guess. However, there are other aspects to reporting where the issues are less clear.
It’s routine for example that quotes by a person be broken up and distributed around a story to give it a better read. The sentences uttered in interview or in correspondence might appear on the page in a different order to originally given, or bits snipped or tweaked to make them more readable. Ideally the person being quoted should have the chance to approve these things, but I appreciate that it’s not always possible. Certainly I have seen multiple outlets provide direct quotes attributes to someone that are clearly different from each other and the actual original words. They might all capture the substance of the comments and be generally accurate and stylistically correct, but they are quite definitely not the direct and exact words spoken as the use of ” “s would indicate.
Similarly, the use of colour in a story often seems to be just created out of nothing. The kind of thing where they want to provide a scene or give a human angle to the story, “It has been a long and hard time in the field, but on the last day, they struck gold”, “deep in the basement of the institute, researchers pour over their latest discoveries” etc. I’ve seen a number of these that are simply fabricated since that are about research projects I was involved in and they didn’t happen. They are either assumed to have happened (which seems lazy at best) or were made up (which is clearly incorrect practice as far as I’m concerned).
In both these cases I must say this practice bothers me. It implies truth and accuracy where it is simply not the case. The words were not spoken like that in this way, and the supposed events to provide colour are assumed at best, inaccurate or indeed fabricated at worst. This does seem to be pervasive and all but considered normal practice, but should it be? I can see an argument that it does no real harm and draws in the reader / makes things clearer or cleaner etc. but to me this simply does not wash. You are there to provide the facts and explain the facts. Even if ancillary to the point, these things are incorrect. If you don’t know, don’t guess or make it up. You are a journalist, it’s your *job* to find these things out. If the quotes don’t work, then paraphrase or discuss them (or get some new ones), don’t rewrite them to suit the story and claim they are genuine. It might not be critical to the story (i.e. the facts of the science) but surely it is a measure of trust between the reader and the writer that those things actually happened (however incidental). If they did not, it’s hard for me to escape the simple conclusion that this is not to be trusted.