I generally have no problem with anonymous source reporting. Anonymous sources often make it possible for reporters to get stories they otherwise wouldn’t get. The entire trade rumor circuit which, no matter what you think about it, is extremely popular among readers, is based on it. Bigger, important news often hinges on anonymity because people are sharing information which could get them fired. Or worse. It’s a necessary part of journalism and anyone who dismisses a story merely because it’s sourced anonymously is being foolish.
That said, there are limits to what can and can’t be sourced anonymously. For example, you have to give the reader some sense of what kind of source the person is so as to give them at least some confidence that the information you’re imparting is legitimate as opposed to 100% pure, unadulterated baloney.
For example, “a government source” is more useful than merely saying “a source.” A “source who has examined the documents/microfilm/offer/whatever” is useful. A “source close to [notable person]” is a bit more vague, but it’s something. All of it beats saying “a source.”
In contrast, if your anonymous source seems impossible — like, there’s no immediately plausible person saying x, y, z who would know, that’s a big problem. If your story makes a savvy reader focus way more on where the information could possibly be coming from than the information itself, that’s likewise a problem.
With that I give you the latest from Daily News. A paper which has, thus far, embarrassed itself repeatedly since last Tuesday’s revelations about the A-Rod/Biogenesis story:
Alex Rodriguez is taking his wildest swing yet in his fight against steroid allegations: The Yankees and MLB are conspiring to push him out of the game. Sources say the embattled Yankee star is “scared” that bigger forces are at work to try to discredit him and sink his career … “He’s scared, because he thinks this is so unbelievably false, and he’s wondering who could be behind this … He thinks something could be going on larger than anyone might think.”
The person quoted thusly is repeatedly identified as “a source.” There is no sense if this is a friend of A-Rod’s, a business associate or anything. There is no information imparted which even suggests to the reader that the source might have some access and insight into A-Rod’s psyche. This could just as easily be a hot dog vendor speculating about what A-Rod might feel as it could be a confidant.
And in this story, from this source, that truly matters. It matters because the information here paints A-Rod in a negative (indeed paranoid) light. This after a week’s worth of the Daily News more or less transcribing highly implausible “the Yankees are going to dump A-Rod” talking points from the Yankees front office with almost zero critical analysis at all. And, of course, a decade’s worth of trying to slam and humiliate Rodriguez at every possible opportunity.
In short, the Daily News has done nothing to warrant the benefit of the doubt here. Its sources are incredibly thin. This latest story conveniently serves to bolster the Daily News’ “A-Rod is done as a Yankee” narrative. Given the peculiarly inside vibe to this — and the fact that no one truly close to A-Rod would be a likely Daily News source give its treatment of him over the years — it is damn nigh impossible to imagine who on Earth could be the Daily News’ “source.”
But is it true? I suppose the beauty of the way this story is written is that we have no way of knowing and no way of checking. But therein also likes the very best reason to question this story coming from this outlet.