Monday, August 27, 2007

Today in sourcing

It's always the way of news organizations. Comes a public scandal or flare-up of some sort about sourcing and everyone takes the pledge. And it lasts right up until -- usually until it makes sense to break it.

Hence what looks like a strong candidate for the news of the day:

WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 ­ Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

This is as strong as the sourcing gets -- a single anonymous official. Raising an interesting set of questions from the ethics-n-practice perspective:

What's the minimum number of sources a story like this should require before it goes up?

How big does a story have to be before that rule is waived?

Who has how much say in making those calls?

Should the size of the story make you more or less stringent with the rules?

Cases like this tend to crop up more often in the cop-n-crime domain; news outfits that usually hold the line against defamation will go ahead and let blind sources libel the living fork out of a suspect if the case is big and lurid enough. And to be honest, in most cases, it goes unpunished: The rumor's true, the suspect is guilty, whatever. Which may well prove true here.

What if it's one of the big screwups, though: another JUSTICE FOR JONBENET case? And what happens to the low-ranking newsroom contrarian who stands up to a Washburo big-hitter and says a story isn't ready for publication? Inquiring minds want to know.


Blogger Adrian said...

It doesn't say that they got the news from a single anonymous official. It says that they got _certain_info_ from the s.a.o.

Of course they know for sure that he's resigned. The editor of the NYT ain't stupid.

10:56 AM, August 27, 2007  

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