So why can't this sourcing thing be fixed?
May 23rd, 2005 by JTJ

It can. 

The NYT this morning tells us that “Big News Media Join in Push to Limit Use of Unidentified Sources.”  Readers are told:

Concerned that they may have become too free in granting anonymity to sources, news organizations including USA Today, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, NBC News and The New York Times are trying to throttle back their use.
some journalists worry that these efforts could hamper them from doing
their jobs – coming in a hothouse atmosphere where mistrust of the news
media is rampant, hordes of newly minted media critics attack every
misstep on the Web, and legal cases jeopardize their ability to keep
unnamed news sources confidential….
Last year, The New York Times adopted a more stringent approach to its
treatment of confidential sources, including a provision that the
identity of every unidentified source must be known to at least one
editor. A committee of the paper's journalists recently recommended
that the top editors put in place new editing mechanisms to ensure that
current policies are enforced more fully and energetically.”

We look forward to these “new editing mechanisms.”

Yes, policies on unnamed sources should be made,
those policies should be clear and everyone in the newsroom should know
what they are.  But more often (as in “every day”), editors must
know the sources — indeed, all sources
— are for a story, how to reach those souces and how to verify what
the reporter wrote, even if the reporter is out-of-pocket. 

This is not difficult if journalists recognize that a
PC-based word processing application already has the tools to assist in
this “Who Are The Sources” mission. (If the publication is still using
something like the old Coyote terminals, sorry, we probably can't
help  you.) 

The tool is the “comment” function in the word processor.  While the newsroom is making policies about sourcing, add this one: “Every
paragraph of every story will end with an embedded comment.  That
comment will show editors exactly how the reporter knows what he or she
just wrote.”
  The comment might include a source's name,
phone number and date-time-place of interview.  The comment might
include a URL or a bibliographic citation.  It might include
reference to the specific reporter's notebook.  But in the end,
the comments should be sufficient that an editor can “walk the cat
backward” to determine exactly how the reporter knows what he/she just
wrote.  Doing so helps prevent unwarranted assumptions and errors
of fact, if not interpretation.

There will be those of the Burn-Your-Notes School of
libel defense who will contend this is comment thing is suicidal. 
We would suggest, first, that very few stories ever become court
cases.  Secondly remember that truth is the first defense in libel
actions, and it is our responsibility to deliver that truth.

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