Episode 3: Not for Attribution

    "They’re dead where it doesn’t count." —Fletcher

    Showtimes (on HBO, Channel 43 on Campus TVs):

    Wednesday, Jan. 30, 9:30 p.m.

    Thursday, Jan. 31, 9:30 p.m.

    Thursday, Jan. 31, 8 p.m.

    How Things Work in this Blog:

    – The Pop Culture Angle: Bit-and-piece comments/links on the Wire’s impacts on pop culture.

    – The Coast to Coast Connect: Think Baltimore’s drama is far from home? The West Coast has its healthy dose of misspent funds, bought-out politicians and twisted institutions, so read up on the latest news with links.

    – The News Angle: As an amateur journalist, the Wire’s fifth season hits close to home. Read up on insights into the newsroom, and how the Guardian operates similarly/differently to the Baltimore Sun.

    The News Angle: Shadowed Sources

    Anonymous sources have their pros and cons. The Guardian’s latest stab at anonymity involved allegations of hazing.

    January 2008: https://ucsdguardian.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9417&Itemid=2

    December 2007: https://ucsdguardian.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9319&Itemid=78

    What a shitstorm! The latest instance of an anonymous source at the Guardian occurred within reporter Kimberly Cheng’s piece on alleged hazing within several fraternities at UCSD. Our editorial process mandates that every anonymous source receive approval from the the publication’;s management, which would be, urr … me. So here’s my take on the issue: We don’t go out looking for anonymous sources to build our news clips and base of stories. In fact, we push for people to go full out and on the record — anonymity breeds questions upon questions from readers (about the validity of the source, our reporting skills and, most distasteful of all, our credibility). As a newspaper, we should be answering questions, not creating them.

    All questions sprung from anonymous sources are valid; as a newsman, I’m constantly scrutinizing and criticizing, so why should I give the Guardian, or my own staffers, the benefit of the doubt in this instance?

    A few things that led me to approve the anonymity and publish the story, specific to this case. First, the source’s fear of retribution was believable, as the issue involved allegations of physical and verbal abuse. Secondly, Cheng tried to get other sources on the record, but to no avail (again, understandable given the sensitive circumstances). Also, the story had facts within it that I felt were worth making public: 1) The fraternity’s national chapter was renewing their investigation into hazing allegations, which began in November when the source brought it his evidence … 2) The source claimed that he had also brought his evidence to campus administrators in November, but the case never received follow up … 3) His new round of evidence, which included pictures and Facebook exchanges, spurred the campus office to launch an investigation of its own.

    Then the shitstorm hit. Greek supporters ripped through our message boards attacking our standing as a newspaper, understandably angry about what they saw as a slap-happy attack on the fraternity system through one source. What made it worse? He was anonymous.

    The only encouraging words I can offer to those who feel slighted is this: We’re not stopping here, certainly not on a single source and certainly not on a single anonymous one. Cheng is still out there gathering tips and tidbits, and we will exhaust every source possible avenue of reporting on the issue until we feel we grab onto something else newsworthy.

    So how does the Wire connect to all this? Imagine I’m Gus Haynes. Trust me, I take this duty as heavily as he does. Yes, I jerk awake in the wee hours sweating over facts I think were misprinted. Yes, I cuss, drink and take too-often smoke breaks. And yes, I put my reporters’ feet to the fire when it comes to validating info.

    And for those with some empathy left in them, life ain’t easy as a journalist. To a source, journalists are often pure evil: Friendly enough to get information, but unfriendly when that information needs to be made public. To journalists, sources are even shadier, always trying to get us to write what they want, when we’re trying to write what the public needs to read. Scott Templeton’s "not for attribution" line serves as the prime cautionary tale in newsrooms: Scrutinize your decisions to make sources anonymous, because while it makes the job easier then, it makes it harder after the fact.

    The Coast to Coast Connect: A Shrinking Field

    The Baltimore Sun isn’t the only publication dealing with buy-outs, lay-offs and professional executions.

    – The L.A. Times axes its top editor:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080121/ap_on_re_us/la_times_editor_fired

    – San Diego Union Tribune slims down its staff:

    http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2008/01/17/economics/911uniontribune011608.txt

    More to Discover
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