When the great Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente and other Latino ballplayers first came into the Major Leagues a half century ago, sports reporters quoted them verbatim, reproducing their broken English dialect. "I no play so gut yet," Clemente was quoted in the Pittsburgh Press. "Me like hot weather, veree hot. I no run fast cold weather. No get warm in cold. No get warm, no play gut. You see."
Eventually journalists came to see the subtle yet monstrous racism inherent in quoting Latinos in this way, and rightly began cleaning up their quotes so that they at least did not exaggerate the brokenness of the English.
I thought of this movement toward basic journalistic decency when I read a quote—the sort of quote I often read—by a young Chicago woman in a story on the website of our local NPR affiliate, WBEZ.
Talking about her discovery of an abandoned ship in the Calumet River, she said, "Then we came close to that rusted boat and I was like what's the deal with that boat."
And I was like why didn't the writer at the very least punctuate her quote, so that it read, "Then we came close to that rusted boat. And I was like, 'What's the deal with that boat?'"
Better yet, don't use the quote. Paraphrase the awful thing, and quote something better—like this, which the young woman says at the end of the story. "It's good to know she had a name and where she was from … and people cared about her."
No matter what you do, don't humiliate the perfectly literate Millennial by quoting her verbal banality verbatim.
Or, as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's press man Earl Bush used to complain about the way reporters quoted his drunk-tongued boss, "They should have printed what he meant, not what he said."