Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Toronto Star digs the anonymous source

Here is a story written by the Toronto Star which may be true. There may have been talks between Rogers Communications and the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan to buy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Keep this story in mind the next time Damien Cox rips a blogger for hiding behind anonymity, since many unnamed sources are used to put this story together.

In journalism school (yes, I'm going to play THAT card again) we were taught to be careful with anonymous sources. I'm going to drop a blockquote from a book I still read:
"In recent years, as the number of news outlets has grown and news sources have become more sophisticated in the art of press manipulation, confidentiality has shifted from a tool journalists used to coax reluctant whistleblowers into confiding vital information to something quite different--a condition press-savvy sources imposed on journalists before they would even speak to them.


Deborah Howell, the Washington editor of the Newhouse newspapers, has two other rules for anonymous sources.

1 - Never use an anonymous source to offer an opinion of another person.
2 - Never use an anonymous source as the first quote of the story.

-Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism, Crown Publishing: 2007, pages 107-8
There are reasons editors are skeptical at anonymous sourcing. While neither Rogers or MLSE benefit from a controlled leak in this situation, certainly the public has a right not to trust an anonymous source, particularly when the position of the source isn't even given.

"I’ve heard it from Rogers at a high executive level and from MLSE at a (the highest) level" the anonymous source is quoted as saying. I heard it from my uncle and my sister that Alexander Semin is being traded for Martin Brodeur, but that doesn't make it in any way right. Without knowing the source, the public has no way of telling whether the information should be trusted.

It's also lazy journalism:
"[John] Brady offers several tips on the use of unnamed sources. He suggests reporters and sources agree on what 'off the record' will mean from the beginning of the interview, to 'make it clear that the subject is the one who needs to take action to put information off the record', and to 'verify all off-the-record information before using it in the story'.

He adds, 'If the off-the-record information cannot be confirmed, remember the old newsroom axion: Sometimes it's better to kill a story than to be killed by a story.

Robert Cribb, et al. Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter's Research Guide, Oxford University Press: 2006, page 131
Yes, this is Robert Cribb, co-author of a book of a passage quoting a journalism expert as saying all unsourced information needs to be verified, writing a story that is all unsourced information.

This is the same Robert Cribb, who co-authored a book called Digging Deeper who completely missed connecting the dots on the Colin Campbell e-mail story.

Until Cribb practices what he preaches, I'm not believing a lick of this.

[Fixed for late-night spelling/grammar errors]

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