Good Sourcing

Defend the value of good sourcing

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?
  1. Are they named or just referenced by job title (a “someone from the Foreign Office”). Why is it better to have someone named?
  2. 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”?
  3. Who could the reporter have talked to make his or her story more complete, more informative, more credible?
  4. Come up with 3 people (or types of people) who are not interviewed. What value would their thoughts add?
  5. Write up 5 questions to ask each person. Why might you ask certain questions of one, but not of another?
  6. 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)
  1. Does the single source have an “agenda”?
  2. 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)?
  1. Whose voices would be important to hear but who do not appear in those 3 stories?
  2. Why do you think those kinds of voices are not heard?
  3. Do you agree with the news outlets’ decisions to interview the people they did?