EdMedia Commons Archive

Knowing Your Sources: Is Disclosure Ever Overkill?

Deadline writing is a tough draw, especially if your copy desk or dugout of intern fact-checkers is over-extended. But what happens when the available sources you rely on to give balance or texture to your article end up having an outsized role in the policy debate on which they’re commenting?

Case in point: Over at The Audit, a blog published by Columbia Journalism Review that reviews the business press, numerous publications were called out for not disclosing the political connections of various individuals who were interviewed in stories discussing business regulation:

Is it really so hard to find small manufacturing businesses to talk to? No. It’s a bad brew of deadline pressures mixed with “balance” pressures.

Here’s how you should assume this works, because it’s how it very often does: A journalist is on deadline on a story and needs an anecdote to make it feel “real” with some color—preferably someone who will add balance and/or support the journalist’s thesis. A speed-dialed call is made to industry flacks to supply a quotable small-business person…and, voilà!

That’s the quick-and-easy way, which is how readers get political activists presented misleadingly as random businessmen.

As reporters, how do you deal with the pressures of digging up the relevant information on an interview subject? Have you ever encountered a situation in which you had to pull a quote because the subject was more connected than he or she wished to reveal? 

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.