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Times Editor Chris Lopez's weblog

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Here we go again

Journalists are in the news again around the topic of ethics, use of anonymous sources and credibility. It's a stain we bring on ourselves with sloppy work and breaches of trust. No doubt the fallout over Newsweek Magazine's use of anonymous sources has caught your attention, but closer to home in the Bay Area the resignation of Sacramento Bee columnist Diana Griego Erwin may not be on your radar. Here's an interesting item on her situation. You want to know what our policy is that guides the Contra Costa Times newsroom? Our ethics policy is here.
The simplest guidepost is to let your conscience be your guide. As for anonymous sources, our Sunday Perspective section will carry a commentary from Clark Hoyt, the Knight Ridder Washington boss, who writes about how anonymous sources are a way of doing business in Washington, not necessarily for journalists but by the powerbrokers in the White House and the halls of Congress.


Blogger Brian Boyko said...

Perhaps I'm a little fuzzy on this, but if government officials keep feeding you bad information and then hide under anonymity, why won't journalists blow the anonymity if they get burned?

Put another way, if someone BSs you, why not burn the source back by blowing the cover? Worst thing the source could do is stop talking to you - and since they're BSing you anyway, journalists shouldn't be talking to them.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Chris Lopez, Times Editor said...

Burning sources is never a good idea. A journalist is essentially entering into a contract when he or she agrees to the terms of accepting information anonymously. Journalism is about building relationships and trust. Relationships and trust with readers, and relationships and trust with the people being interviewed for information.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Brian Boyko said...

Journalism isn't about building trust. It's about finding the truth and reporting it.

Relationships and trust with your sources are only good so far as they achieve that end.

Put another way, someone hiding behind anonymity used Newsweek, abusing trust. Now, Newsweek's readers trust Newsweek less.

If you believe Newsweek entered into a contract with an anonymous source, then part of that unspoken contract should be that the material that is provided is to be best of the source's knowledge true and accurate, and delivered in good faith.

In a choice between keeping the trust of readers and keeping the trust of a source abusing anonymity to make the media outlet look bad, why is there so much reluctance to choose the obvious option?

6:12 AM  

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