Saturday, July 29, 2017

ALWAYS CONSIDER THE SOURCE, BUT DON'T QUOTE AN ANONYMOUS ONE

Perhaps the most amazing thing I've seen during the fake news epidemic is the constant use of anonymous or unnamed "sources" in major stories. It seems that every story has one of the following phrases:

-Sources say
-Someone close to the situation
-People on Capitol Hill are saying
-The word in the White House is

You'll finish watching or reading a story and by the time you get to the end you realize there's no one on the record.

That's not a story. It's gossip. It's a rumor.

As my old News Director used to say, "You got no one on the record, you got no story."

So let's talk about sources, and how they're SUPPOSED to be used when putting together a story. 

Generally a source who seeks you out wants something, or that person wouldn't bother getting in touch. Always keep that in mind. So let's say you get a call from someone who has information about a politician proving he's doing something illegal. What's the first thing you do?

Ask for a name.

If you don't get one, and you probably won't (don't forget to check caller ID) that means the source has an agenda. Of course most sources do anyway, but one that won't give a name is a bit more suspicious. So now what do you do?

If you're a current reporter for a biased network, you run the story without checking. But any good reporter checks out the tip. It may actually turn out to be something, but you cannot run a story without any concrete proof.

And with people on the record.

And with BOTH SIDES of the story.

It's those pesky Journalism 101 rules that network reporters are ignoring that has given the profession a bad name.

The other kinds of sources are those you have cultivated. Any decent reporter has "friendly" relationships with people in high places. Any decent reporter will regularly touch base with these sources and simply ask if there's anything interesting going on that needs to be checked out.

That last part is the key. "That needs to be checked out." That's your job. No source is going to give you the whole story.

You may be on great terms with a politician, and that person may give you what sounds like a great tip, but remember, there's always an agenda from a source. 

Sources are to be used for one reason: to lead you in the direction of a possible story. Note that I say "possible." And unless you check out the lead, and get both sides, you do not have a story.

Finally, the other cardinal sin is running a story based on someone else's fake news. I'm amazed at the networks which will take a piece in the NY Times which has already been debunked or has no attribution and spend a ton of time reporting about it. Bottom line, cutting a story out of a newspaper or taking one from another news organization is not reporting.

Do your job and check out both sides. Sources can be valuable, but only if you do your part.

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