Tuesday, May 2, 2017

'Sources say' this is the best website in the world

It’s not a new thing but it is an increasingly more common thing: “Sources say.”

Chalk it up to entertainment news or internet-influence but I notice a lot more anonymous sources being used in news stories than ever before. “Sources say” Justin Bieber is dating Venus Williams or “sources say” the President spilled ketchup on his tie today.

It used to be, at least back in my days in the newspaper biz, that anonymous sources were rarely used and if they were they needed to be double-sourced by another. Some of it today, I believe, is also the rush to be the first to get the news. So “sources say” ten people were killed by two masked gun wielding assault rifles, eventually becomes four people shot by one man with a pistol. Seems it’s usually best not to repeat the particulars of any breaking news story you hear. Give it some time to stew, for more sources to reaffirm the story.

I recall using an anonymous source once in my career. That was from a closed-door meeting among teachers and from a teacher I knew and trusted. And I had no other way of getting that news. Now, it seems when there are other ways the reporters seldom wait or work their way to get the facts.

I even saw our local paper use an anonymous website comment to a news story in a follow-up story. No name, no nothing.

But, then again, this is the same paper that has a very popular feature in its news section (not on the opinion page) called “2 Cents.” That allows people to write in anonymous comments complaining about life, neighbors and politicians. The paper does no fact checking on the comments, just prints them willy nilly.

It’s amazing to me. I formerly edited four different newspapers and if I’d walked into the bosses and suggested “hey, let’s run anonymous opinions and unchecked comments on our news page,” they would’ve hung me up by my toes after firing me.

To make it worse, this is probably the most read part of the paper, which would make me nervous as a publisher that the most popular thing in your paper isn’t written by your own reporters.

It’s like they don’t realize that anonymous sources can have agendas, or they can be drunk, or they can be uninformed. That’s why you name sources, so readers can make that determination. If “Mark Haugen” says something, people can say they never heard of me, they can say “oh, he’s the smartest man I know, so I better believe him” or they can say, “oh, that idiot is back on the sauce.” But anonymous sources don’t allow the readers to make that judgement, instead relying on the veracity of the publication doing the anonymous sourcing, and not many of them are shooting off the charts right now.

But, I get it. I’m a dinosaur. Newspapers aren’t just papers anymore. Unfortunately, they aren’t just news anymore either.

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