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Another rant against unnamed sources

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by murciélago, Dec 2, 2006.

  1. I've been reading a lot about the Alabama coaching search lately. I'm a little pissed.

    I read one story today that used too damn many unnamed sources. Sources close to Alabama. Sources close to Spurrier. Sources close to Ricardo Rodriguez of western Virginia. At story's end, I couldn't gauge exactly how many sources had been used. I'm assuming it was a large number.

    Lemme ass you this: Why?

    Is it really that necessary? Do we need to push the envelope this far in this situation? There are fewer unnamed sources in Time stories about the Iraq war.

    ps: I'm not shooting at the Alabama guys. I know most of them. I know they're not reckless reporters. I just think their papers must be getting ridiculously aggressive about "winning" this story, and it might be taking a toll ...
  2. brettwatson

    brettwatson Active Member

    You make a great point. And in this age of instant gratification on the internet, the temptation is to do even more of this sort of thing.

    My advice is two-fold. Work your sources hard before a big breaking news story happens so you at least have someone you respect to go to. And resist the temptation to beat everyone else out there by rushing sourced stories into print or online. Credibility is of paramount importance in our industry, now more than ever. While you want to break every story, especially the major ones, readers know who to trust. If you have the real inside scoop, you don't need to use sources to hide behind.

    My shop requires every unnamed source to be approved by the top editor or managing editor. That helps us keep a lot of AP sourced stuff out of the paper. From my perch, AP should take more of a leadership role on this, but I suppose since they are competing with the ESPN.com's of the world, they are forced to move stories from member papers when they have absolutely no idea who the sources are for much of the material.

    We should all keep fighting the good fight and use sources only when absolutely necessary. That being said, coach hiring/firing stories are not easy to report and those frequently do lead to not only extensive sourcing, but also the misused sources. It's not easy, but think about what talk radio has done to the industry and then try to do the exact opposite of what they do.
  3. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    This is an informative debate, but here's a question:

    Why is "breaking a story" still considered such a big deal nowadays? No, seriously.

    We live in a world where many stories live and die within 24 hours. A story is broken at 8 a.m., and it's old news by 8 p.m. Or the story's changed already. Or there's a new "scoop". ...

    Either way, unless it's a major story with many legs, whoever broke the original story is forgotten almost immediately.

    And I can't tell you how many times I've seen the same national sports story "scooped" by a dozen sources on the same day, whether it's "David Aldridge reports ..." or "according to ESPN.com's Chris Mortensen ..." or "the Boston Globe reported on its Web site ..."

    Sure, if you're working a beat (or even a G.A.), you should never shy away from a big "get" if you can get it.

    But I wonder just how much good it does to compete with a 24-hour news cycle that doesn't care *who* broke a story as much as it matters *what* it is being broken. Fighting to actually break the news is to fight a losing battle -- the Internet has lessened the importance of "scoops", IMO. I think we'd be better served not to worry so much about getting it "first" but instead working more on getting it "best."

    Anonymous sources can help a lot with getting it first and fast. I think there's a whole lot fewer instances where they help in getting it best. And I think that's where our focus should largely be.
  4. Well said. I think that's ideal.
  5. Ledbetter

    Ledbetter Active Member

    It's been a tough week for the Bama beat writers because the folks in this state have been so crazy about the coaching search.
    Agree completely. I've read a lot of stuff this week I wouldn't have been comfortable writing. Odds are, they weren't either but they felt they had to have something.
  6. SoSueMe

    SoSueMe Active Member

    I heard the Huntsville Times was the only newspaper to report Shula was staying, which all know didn't happen. But they did have a source, and a good one I'm told. There is that much pressure on being the one who "breaks" the story.
  7. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Most papers didnt have him leaving, but he wasn't about to hang new pictures in his office either...

    And if I read unnamed sources from any more of those lil' ray of sunshine comminists, I'm gonna puke
  8. Ledbetter

    Ledbetter Active Member

    Didn't Birmingham also have him staying? I could be wrong.
  9. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    I think it was more like -- "He's still here but we're waiting..." t least the beat guy did anyway.
  10. Ira_Schoffel

    Ira_Schoffel Member

    Not a fan of unnamed sources in any situation, but REALLY not in coaching searches.

    Problem is that coaches, agents and others frequently plant info that is untrue to advance their cause (and boost their bargaining power).

    And we're so eager to beat the guys down the street that we pounce on every morsel they float out there.
  11. Twoback

    Twoback Active Member

    Simple as this:
    You can tell people what you know.
    Or you can not tell people what you know.
    If you choose to tell people nothing, then you're not much of a paper.
  12. ECrawford

    ECrawford Member

    Simple as this:

    If what you know is not true, and you tell people, then you're not much of a paper. You'd be better off telling people nothing, or sticking with what you can get on the record.
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