A heavily edited star interview in a German lifestyle magazine raised
questions about the common practice of quote authorization, and the
thinning line between journalism and PR, writes Jennifer Abramsohn on the Deutsche Welle website.

When it comes to the fight for journalistic integrity, decisive battles are not often played out on the field of the celebrity interview.

But recent events led a German pop culture and lifestyle magazine to take a stand on what has become a standard practice in the German press: allowing a subject a chance to "authorize" — and often revise — an interview before it appears in print. 

For the February issue of youth and lifestyle glossy U_mag, writer Volker Sievert sat down to chat with up-and-coming starlet Hannah Herzsprung. But after providing the actress with the agreed-upon transcript of the interview, he said he was "shocked and stunned" when her final version came back.

So much of the text had been excised that it looked more like it had been attacked by wartime censors than simply vetted for errors or slips of the tongue.

"I really felt like I had been censored," Sievert wrote in an e-mail. "I couldn't understand this massive interference in the least."

As a result of Herzsprung's changes, Sievert wrote, the interview was "almost grotesquely disfigured." The end result is "something that resembles a self-promotional text more than a lively, vital interview," he added.

U_mag's response? Print the interview in full — heavily blacked-out sections included.

"We felt used," Sievert said. "We decided to print the interview with the crossed out sections, to give our readers a look into the modern media landscape."

The event caused a stir in the German media and awoke a sleeping discussion on what some say is an overly-cozy relationship between the German press and public figures.

"Journalists are not legally required to have interview partners authorize their statements. …  But unfortunately in Germany, that has almost become common practice," said Hendrik Zörner, spokesman for the German Journalists' Association (DJV).

Der Spiegel at the breakfast tableBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Der Spiegel is known for letting subjects alter interviews, one commentator said

Big-name papers tend to "follow clearer journalistic practices," while the smaller, local outlets that make up the majority of papers in the country, "might have to deal with certain interview partners more frequently," and so are more likely to allow sources to sign off on interviews, Zörner said.

"This leads to the practice that looks a little like mutual back-scratching," he added.

 But Ingrid Kolb, director of the Henri Nannen School for Journalism in Hamburg, said some of the country's biggest media outlets — for instance, renowned news magazines Der Spiegel and Stern — are noted for the practice.

"The long interviews that Der Spiegel publishes with famous public figures, their so-called talks, are known for this," Kolb said. "They can go back and forth a dozen times, with each side bringing their argument a bit more to the point, refining it, improving it. In a best-case scenario, it serves the interests of both sides."

Click here to read the full report, posted on the Deutsche Welle website.