Question About Journalist Transcribing Quotes

I remember Patrick Klepek talking about this a year or two ago. I have a question about general journalistic expectations when transcribing quotes.

So a producer for the Grammerys recently said some shitty stuff about women in the music industry.Variety quoted him as saying “women need to step up”.

The headline is

Grammys So Male? ‘Women Need to Step Up,’ Says Recording Academy President

with the those 5 words in quotes.

The article gives the full quote:

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”

With [They need] in brackets.

What do the brackets mean?

I’m conflicted, because now i’m not entirely sure what he said. There are a lot of things that could be alternatives to that [they need] that would be way less offensive. Like [The industry needs].

But do the quotes in the headline mean what he really said was [Women need]?

Not a journalist by any means but in any journalistic or academic citation style I’ve ever used, brackets are used to signify words that have either been replaced with different ones or added entirely by the writer. Sometimes it’s to prevent repeating unnecessary information that might take up too much space, or conversely to clarify information that might not be abundantly clear. It’s generally expected that the same information will be conveyed, but it’s understandable that on reading this quote you (or anyone) might wonder what this exec actually said. (Me included—it does seem a little questionable in full context.)

Brackets mean that words have been added or replaced by the journalist, but ethics require that you can’t change the meaning of the sentence. Sometimes you’ll see someone add [a] word because people speaking don’t always make perfectly coherent sentences.

Frequently when combined with ellipses, it’s because in the process of chopping the full statement down, you ended up with an unclear subject for a clause, or a mismatch of plurals or something, so brackets are used in that context to edit the phrasing into something that reads well.

In this context I think the journalist(s) and editor(s) felt that “need to step up” applied to “women” from the earlier part of the statement. The deleted clause or sentence could have changed subjects, and then changed back.


The most common use of brackets is, as @dogsarecool mentioned, inserting or correcting a subject/pronoun/other word to either clarify or correct the quote. In this case, the writer either started this sentence in the middle of a quote, or cut out some nonsensical parts. Source: not a journalist but had to learn AP style just so I could write boilerplate press releases.

Honestly, there are other questions this article brings up to me. Like what’s in those ellipses? And shouldn’t the quote in the headline be between “need” and “to”? He never actually said those 5 words in order.

I guess at least the headline wasn’t Women Need ‘Breeding Opportunities,’ says Recording Academy President.


Wow this is a pretty bad job of putting a quote in a news article. It’s a whole paragraph long, has two ellipses and something restated in brackets. The meaning of “It needs to begin with… women who have the creativity etc.” could be incredibly different based on what exactly was taken out right there. And this makes the question of who [They need] is referring to all the more pressing. Whoever edited this piece should have never let this go through.

Some other news sources (, USA Today) transcribed this quote as follows:

“I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls — who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level —to step up, because I think they would be welcome,” Neil Portnow told journalists backstage following the show.

I checked some other articles and they also seem to fit this transcription. It looks like the ellipses in the Variety article were meant to represent a spoken pause instead of an editorial change.


so [need] was definitely added, by the journalist.