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Removing sourcing info from a story: major ethical violation or SOP?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by schiezainc, Jun 29, 2011.

  1. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    So, I've got a sourcing question I've never had to deal with before.

    First, let me give you some background. In my coverage area, the Superintendent of Schools is in a heated fight with the School Committee for every move he tries to make. So, like any fed up employee, he decided to seek another job in another district.

    Well, tonight I'm at our local school committee meeting waiting for word about whether or not he got the job in the other district. The best way for me to find this out is to check the website of the two local papers in that town (We'll call them the Podunk Press and the Local Newsbeat) and my state's daily paper for updates since I wanted to get quotes from him one way or another as soon as news breaks and he happens to be at our local school committee's meeting.

    Full disclosure: The Podunk Press is a sister paper of my company. The Local Newsbeat is its direct competitor.

    So, five minutes before my local school committee meeting ends, I do one more check of all three websites to see if news breaks. The Podunk site has nothing, the state's daily paper has nothing but the Local Newsbeat breaks it and says he has the job.

    Naturally, I interview him about it and post a story immediately on my company's website, sourcing the Local Newsbeat because 1.) They're not my competition so I don't care that they broke the news and 2.) Because I got the news from them and it's only fair and ethical to credit them for the scoop.

    I then call the Podunk Press to let them know the news and they had no idea. They're a daily so they're going crazy but I tell them they can use the story I put together on my website for their news.

    So here's my question.

    I go to their website a little while later and they've got my story up, with the picture I sent them but they take away all attribution to the Local Newsbeat paper. I know it's their direct competition but this seems completely unethical to me because 1.) It's got my byline on it and it makes it seem like I broke the news and 2.) If they wanted the news so badly, they should have been there themselves in the first place.

    They didn't change my story in any other way except to add some background information so it's not like they went and got them news themselves. This seems wrong to me. Am I wrong?
  2. da man

    da man Well-Known Member

    When you talked to him, did he know he had the job? Did he tell you that?

    Because even if you told the guy you had read the news elsewhere, it seems to me that if he then said, "Yes, the other district told me I have the job," you don't need to source it anymore. You have it straight from the horse's mouth.
  3. Rhody31

    Rhody31 Well-Known Member

    Even if he says that, you still need to source where you found the original information. You don't need to play it high, but you need to say where you found it from.
  4. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    He said he hadn't heard it officially but commented to me based on the news I was reporting to him. I sourced the paper I sourced because 1.) I wouldn't have had the information until the next morning when I was planning on calling the school district myself (Had the time set up with the secretary and everything) and 2.) Without the info, I wouldn't have gotten the quotes. 3.) Without my story, my sister paper wouldn't have had ANYTHING on it.

    Seems to me to be unethical that they'd just yank the sourcing info and leave my byline on it because it makes it seem like I broke the story when I didn't. Plus, if it turns out to be wrong (Like I said, I can't confirm with the school department until the morning), I would want to retain the ability to run the correction pinning the mistake on where the news originated.

    When I run my story in my paper, it will report where it got it because that's only fair and I think the only way around doing that is to get the news yourself, first hand.

    I'm just a tad confused though
  5. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    It sounds like you have every right to be mad.
  6. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    Yeah, I think you need to source the other paper, saying something like "The superintendent said he got the job, confirming a report in Local Newsbeat."

    But I can also understand why the Podunk Press took it out. Doesn't make it right, but they obviously don't want to be citing their competition.
  7. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    Yeah, this, although I've always thought that pretending that your competitor doesn't exist is silly. Or even worse, assigning those weird "catch-up" stories because they broke something a week before.

    Why didn't your sister paper have this anyway, schiezainc? It sounds like it went down at a school committee meeting, which is normally bread and butter coverage.
  8. FleetFeet

    FleetFeet Member

    Same issue in my neck of the woods. Mine was a one-paper town but one of the local radio stations did have a FT reporter, so I considered that competition. On the very rare occasion he scooped me on something (let's just say his initiative was lacking, not necessarily his ability) and I followed up on it, I always tried to give credit to ABCD Radio even after I had my own quotes, notes and background info, because, as others have mentioned here, it's the only fair, ethical and professional thing to do. Depending on the nature of the story, it might be played in the second or third graph or it could be at the bottom. But it was there.

    Copy editors had a different idea and deleted it every single time. At least, at first. Didn't like that one bit.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately, given the reason), the problem was resolved rather naturally - through no effort of anyone. Copy editors at my place got lazy, really, and didn't look at much of the copy. I began counting on that and realized if I didn't put stuff like that near the top, no one would see it. Maybe not the ideal situation, but it worked well enough ...

    What made you call your sister paper anyway? Not sure of the relationship there or content-sharing agreement, but it seems the issue could be avoided - at least in this case - if you hadn't made that call.
  9. jr/shotglass

    jr/shotglass Well-Known Member

    I think the answer to your original thread title is: both.

    Is it right? No.

    Have I seen it happen throughout 30 years in the business? A lot.
  10. schiezainc

    schiezainc Well-Known Member

    I called them last week when news broke that he was a finalist for the position to see if they knew anything about it and they didn't. Methinks they're not exactly "tapped" into their community ...

    I usually call the sister paper if there's something I'm covering that happens to coincide with their coverage area as a professional courtesy. Might have to rethink that after this incident.
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    If the superintendent definitely knew he had the job and confirmed it, I don't see any reason in the world to credit the other newspaper, unless they had details that you didn't. Then you can credit those.

    If the superintendent didn't know for sure he had the job and was commenting on a report, you definitely need to credit the other newspaper (n part in case they are wrong).
  12. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    Yeah, but here's the thing: Without the competitor's report, he doesn't even know to ask the question.

    So yeah, he's got it from the horse's mouth, but he's not even near the horse without the competitor's story.

    Not sure if that makes it right or wrong, tbh.
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