Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What a news editor is supposed to do

Jay Rosen at Press Think takes apart the Newsweek debacle to try and figure out what went wrong.
PressThink: Newsweek's Take-Our-Word-For-It World: "Newsweek, which I will call S1 for our first level source, and for which we have names (Michael Isikoff, Mark Whitaker, John Barry) said that it had sources (S2) without names, who in turn said that other sources (S3) also without names, working as investigators for the government, have learned enough from their sources (S4), likewise unnamed, to conclude in a forthcoming report for U.S. Southern Command (finally, a name!) that unnamed interrogators (S5) dumped the Qur’an into toilets to make a point with prisoners (S6) who are Muslims but also not named."

Like I said previously, there but for the grace of God. Our scoops are measured in seconds. Minutes are an eternity. But we also have strict rules in place for using unidentified sources. We can't, unless we get approval from the editor-in-chief.

The danger comes when reporters come running in with a "scoop" and the editor forgets that his or her job is to represent the reader, not the reporter. I could, if I'm not careful or because I'm rooting for the reporter, convince my editors that we have the story. If I succeed on a story this poorly-sourced, I've failed to represent the reader.

If Newsweek had similar rules about using unidentified sources, which I suspect they do, what was the editor-in-chief told?

Technorati Tags: