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Posts Tagged ‘ESPN’

Many journalists and news organizations grant confidentiality too readily, sacrificing credibility in the quest of a story. But I think ESPN handled confidentiality responsibly in its reporting on the response by the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL to Ray Rice’s assault on his fiancée.

In a discussion on Facebook, Bryan Sears asked what I thought about ESPN’s use of unnamed sources:

I hate to call people out but Steve Buttry has some serious chops when it comes to the issue of use of anonymous sources and I’m hoping he’d be willing to contribute his thoughts about how ESPN used anonymous sources in the story and what it does to the credibility of the story and are the reporters able to adequately shore up the weaknesses inherent with the use of unnamed sources in such a controversial piece.

Two points before I address the question:

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Bryan.
  2. I avoid the term “anonymous sources” unless the source is actually unknown to the journalist (as some callers, emailers and online commenters are). We should never use information from those sources in stories because we have no way of judging their credibility. They can provide great tips, and I’ve written stories that started with truly anonymous sources, but we have to get the information from sources we trust, or we can’t use it. If a journalist knows the source, as ESPN clearly did, we have a basis of judging his or her credibility and motives for requesting confidentiality. As I’ve explained before, I prefer to call these sources confidential, unnamed or unidentified. I think those terms are more accurate than anonymous, and calling them anonymous hurts the credibility of our reporting. I’ll never win this fight to change journalism terminology, but I repeat my argument whenever I address the issue.

Now to Bryan’s question:

First, I should say that I can just evaluate what I see of the ESPN “Outside the Lines” report by Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenberg. The reporters did not tell us everything about what they did to verify sources’ stories. Nor could they. That’s the nature of confidentiality. My analysis will involve some speculation and I might change some of the opinions expressed here if I knew more. I will invite the reporters to comment on this post, though I understand that they may not be able to shed much light. (more…)

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Last year I blogged about four reasons linking is good journalism. Make it five.

Journalists who practice thorough linking to provide context and attribution for their stories (two of the four reasons I cited) would have learned pretty quickly that crucial facts about Manti Te’o‘s purported girlfriend couldn’t be verified.

Or journalists following Craig Silverman‘s advice on using an accuracy checklist (or using my checklist, adapted from Craig’s) would have found lots of red flags and no verification. (I’ll concentrate on linking here, but I see points on both of our checklists that might have helped a journalist see that something was wrong.)

If you care about accuracy in journalism and if you want to see an excellent example of journalism (exposing several shameful examples of journalism), read the Deadspin investigation of the Notre Dame football star’s fictitious girlfriend. (more…)

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