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The wide world of anonymous sources - a discussion.

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Alma, Feb 21, 2008.

  1. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    How often do you use them?

    What for?

    And why?

    When you do, what wording do you like to use?

    Do you encourage sources to go on the record, do you ask all sources to go on the record or simply assume they won't?

    Ever been burned by it?

    Do you see it become more prevalent? Less prevalent?

    Do readers ever ask you about them?

    What, to you, is an appropriate time to use them? Coaching search? Personnel matter? When the info poses a threat to others? When it's time to scoop the competitors?

    Without naming names, what kinds of people are, most often, your sources? Athletic department types? A front office employee? A parent?

    Do anonymous sources frustrate you? Help you out? Are they a necessary evil or a crutch?

    If you're a writer, what standards do you have in place for their use? If you're an editor…has the use of an anonymous source ever smelled like a lie?

    Just want to start a discussion on it. Fire away.
  2. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    Hate 'em.
    Had to use them sometimes, tried to make it as rare as possible. My old paper had the "must have two" rule, which is good. Also had to be approved by a senior editor (the old days, the SE could approve).

    Two questions must be asked:
    *Why does this person need to be anonymous? Because he/she wants to is not good enough. Job security, that kind of thing qualifies.
    *Why is this person willing to tell me this? This is the big one. Is there an ax to grind? Rarely are people that interested in making sure "the truth" gets exposed.

    My best sources were the administrative staff. They know stuff and they aren't paranoid like most coaches. Years ago, I did have one AD who was a godsend for reasons I still don't understand but he never once burned me.

    Now my job is to stop those sources in their tracks!! Kidding.
  3. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Ummmm... r-i-g-h-t
  4. "Must have two" should be a mandatory rule for anonymous sources.
    Twice in the last two months our sports department has been burned (badly) for using an single anonymous source for the basis of a story.

    I have used "sources" maybe twice in 11 years of reporting. Once it came back to bite me - story on a purported big business deal fell through.

    Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Would never recommend it.

    Just not a good idea.
  5. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Without specifics - did they turn out not to be true?
  6. hockeybeat

    hockeybeat Guest

    A couple years ago, I interviewed at a paper for a major beat. I was asked by the EIC what my philosophy was regarding anonymous sourcing. I said that it is dependent on the story. If a person had solid information about the program's men's hoops coach leaving to take a NBA job, then yeah, I can see using it. But if it's something minuscule, like a player winning Good Guy of the Year, then it's a waste.

    The EIC listened, then said that the paper does not believe in anonymous sourcing. If the reporter can't get a person to go on the record, then they're not going to use the information.
  7. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Hmmm...interesting. You'll often hear that, and then see a different practice.

    Some papers, especially in highly competitive college markets, would quote a fucking fly on the wall to obtain a scoop.
  8. Hate it. Absolute worst part of being a beat writer. Not just putting them into the paper, but having to do the stupid shadow boxing you have to do with people to get them to give up the information.

    My guess is that 90 percent of pro anonymous sources are agents, and 90 percent of college anonymous sources are player parents. Just guessing from my experience.

    Most of the time, you use them to get a tip, then move to get it on the record from somebody. Sometimes, the "anonymous" source is really just a baseball or NBA or NFL GM or other official who basically briefs everyone on the beat about something at the same time, but for whatever dumb reason doesn't want it attached to him. It happens a lot - A LOT - on contract terms, for example.
  9. hockeybeat

    hockeybeat Guest

    It's a fairly competitive college market.

    I think that each case is different. And that the reporter has to know the difference between something tangible and a source that's grinding an axe.
  10. NO!
    That's why they were burned.
    One "source" on a BIG story was just flat-out wrong or uniformed. No one bothered to get someone else to confirm it.
    The other story with a source, turned out the guy had an agenda, was also wrong.

    Neither occasion - or the combination of the two- caused the paper or department to review it policy regarding anonymous sources.
  11. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    Covered colleges for 24 years. Never once used a parent as a source. Not sure I know of anyone who has, either.
  12. Best way to handle it - if at all possible.
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