Why is the person you’re quoting a ‘spokesman’?

I try not to start posts off with “when I was a young reporter…” but, well, here goes: 

When I was a young reporter the word ‘spokesman/woman’ didn’t really appear in local papers. 

It was part of my weeklies paper training that you included the names of whichever person was speaking on behalf of an organisation, rather than using the ‘spokesman’ title, and using that anonymous identifier was frowned upon. 
Generally, it would get sent back by a sub with a request  order to add the name.

Anyway, it struck me, this week, as I leafed through my paper, that doesn’t seem to be the case any more, and I wanted to do something about it.  
It wasn’t a dig at press officers or media managers, it wasn’t a point-proving exercise, it certainly wasn’t a campaign. 
But I think if someone is representing, especially from a public body, they should be named – after all, they are in TV or radio news broadcasts, when they stand up and do their thing. 
I also think it’s good journalism to name the people you quote. 
But somewhere along the way we’ve stopped doing that with the people representing companies and organisations.
I know subs are in short supply these days but training isn’t lacking – has ‘spokesman’ become the norm because there are just so many of them now?

So, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I got to wondering: When did we stop naming spokespeople in our articles? And why do we think readers don’t need to know the name of the messenger?  
And then I asked Twitter for some thoughts. 
There were quite a lot of responses, from hacks, ex-hacks and people working in PR, so they’re collected in the Storify below. If you’ve got some thoughts to add to the debate, for or against, I’d love to hear from you. 

[View the story “When, and why, did we stop naming press officers? ” on Storify]

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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
This entry was posted in Journalism, regional journalism. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why is the person you’re quoting a ‘spokesman’?

  1. Going to have a proper sift through all those tweets. Dealing with this at the moment, as I've started doing a lot more news for my local town website. Got into a pickle with the council's press office, as the press officer refused to let me put her name to a council statement (and I did feel bad for her!), and when I asked for a name to attribute it to, she relayed the message that the council just wanted me to say “spokesperson.” I published it, noting that the council refused to name the spokesperson. Have asked some journos on a mailing list, and they seem divided about the issue. (I've dipped into journalism from time to time, but I'm not formally trained, so I'm on a learning curve with this local website.)

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