Bearing witness: The value of direct quotes, naming sources, and using multiple sources. A source provides the substantive information and supports the veracity of a story. Stories require multiple sources and these sources must be independent of each other so as to avoid false confirmation of the facts in a story. Sometimes sources wish to remain anonymous. This can create questions for news consumers as to the truthfulness of a story.
- Class project and/or Student exercise, Version 1: Take a look at a newspaper story having to do with a government policy. Who are the sources?
- Are they named or just referenced by job title (a “someone from the Foreign Office”). Why is it better to have someone named?
- Is the person directly quoted or are their comments paraphrased? Is the quotation long (two sentences or more) or short (just a couple of words or a brief sentence.)? Why might a direct quote be better than if the reporter puts the statement into his or her own words? Why might it make a difference for readers to have a long quotation from a source rather than a quick “soundbite”?
- Who could the reporter have talked to make his or her story more complete, more informative, more credible?
- Come up with 3 people (or types of people) who are not interviewed. What value would their thoughts add?
- Write up 5 questions to ask each person. Why might you ask certain questions of one, but not of another?
- What order should you conduct these interviews? Why?
- Class project and/or Student exercise, Version 2: Find stories based only on one source (or type of source)
- Does the single source have an “agenda”?
- What are the problems of stories in which only one kind of voice is heard? Selecting sources can create a subtext in a story—what does the audience learn if all the sources come from one political party (or one sports team)? What do they not learn?
- Class project and/or Student exercise, Version 3: Look at 3 stories on the same subject in 3 news outlets. Do all 3 use the same kind of source (such as adult males in a position of power)?
- Whose voices would be important to hear but who do not appear in those 3 stories?
- Why do you think those kinds of voices are not heard?
- Do you agree with the news outlets’ decisions to interview the people they did?