The Gross National Debt

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wocha want me to do?

I state up front: I detest anonymous sources. I believe the use of anonymous sources by journalists is poor reporting, an invitation to sloppy reporting and a mark of a journalist who is willing to make up information rather than get the real facts. Lie, in other words.

Anonymous Source 1.


I am presently being gently pressured in my community to write a number of extremely critical articles about two or three issues here. Nothing unusual about that. That kind of pressure has been a fact of my working life for more than 20 years. I’m used to it.

Sometimes the story needs to be written. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The times the story doesn’t need to be written is most often when someone has a grudge and wants to get revenge through the newspaper. The other times is when someone is just a lunatic and is convinced radioactive alien ticks have landed and are taking over government.

OK, so that last one is not as farfetched as I’m trying to make it out to be.


Where's Joe Friday when I need him?

More than half the time, there is a real story.

In the case of a real story, I try to dig up facts and people who will speak on the record.

Try, being the operative word.

The problem is I will not use anonymous sources. If I was willing to do that, I could fill 20 pages a week with anonymous sources talking about anything I want to ‘em to talk about. See opening paragraph.

If you want the story in the paper, someone has to speak on the record. In other words, I quote ‘em.

By quoting sources, I give the reader the chance to go to that source and verify the information independently. By quoting a source, I also prove the reliability of the source to comment on the matter at hand.


Google image for "RELIABLE" I like it, so I include it.

Reliability matters. Reliability means the person I quote has knowledge of, information on and is an authority on the subject at hand.

If I write a story on brain surgery, who should I interview? A brain surgeon or a computer technician? If I write a story about computer networking, who should I interview? A computer tech or a brain surgeon?

The same applies to paperwork on a story. A note scribbled on a Post-It is not reliable unless I see the person write the note and the person is reliable.

Paperwork must be able to be traced back to the source, who must then be reliable. Emails fall into this category. I verify emails before I use them as a source.

Lend a fellow primate a hand wudja?

Say I have MOUNDS of off the record interviews and can get a pretty dang thick file of officials records, but I’m not supposed to be able to get those records because of various privacy laws.

So, if no one will speak on the record, do I have a news story? If I can’t get records for whatever reason or I can get them under the table, do I have a story?

What if the story is critical to the welfare and safety of my community and STILL no one will talk on the record?

What do you want me to do? I can go with anonymous sources, which will be hotly denied by those in authority and I’ll be branded a liar. Or I can keep trying and waiting and hoping someone reliable will step up to comment on the record.

What should I do?
Consider it pressed.

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