City Paper is not for tourists
Update: I have checked with all my sources in the local media scene. It appears that there was no fight in the Style section of the Washington Post this past Friday, so this coming week will be that much more routine.
Redskins and Giants: They’re looking more and more like NFC East twins. One squad can’t move the ball yet shows a little life out there on the field; and hey, so does the other. With the same results: Another loss. On the Giants front, this fourth straight defeat comes just before their bye week. So that means that the team’s beat writers—-with, of course, nothing more to write about—-will spend a week and a half talking about the psychology of going into the bye week with a loss. You know, how it lingers and on and on. Deadly.
Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander hops on one of my pet peeves this week. The topic of his column is the paper’s over-reliance on anonymous sourcing. That’s a tired story in American journalism, but he’s the ombo, so fine. But after you drill into his column a touch, you get to this gripe:
When they must be used, The Post doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining why.
The Post’s internal policies say: “We must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence.” That means offering enough description so readers can evaluate the quality of the source. Did they actually see or hear what took place? Do they have first-hand knowledge?
A review of anonymous-source usage over the past month shows that readers often got only bare-bones attribution. Of roughly 100 Post news stories using unnamed sources, fully a third provided no meaningful description. Typically, they referred vaguely to “sources,” “officials,” a “State Department official” or a “Democratic official.”
And to all that, I say, hey, who really gives? I mean, readers know that when anonymous sources winds up in the paper, those sources don’t want readers—-anyone—-to figure out who supplied the information. In other words, they want no identifying information in there. Not a trace. Yet people like Alexander, not to mention the Post‘s internal handbook, insist on as much identifying information as possible.
The result? We get a lot of bullshit qualifiers: “a source close to the negotiations,” “a source who has seen the document but didn’t want to be identified because he stands to be fired if he is outed.” Well, I’ve never seen that last one, but you get the notion: These attempts to assure the reader that the source is bona fide never amount to anything. It’s just wasted characters. The bottom line is this: The information has to be sound, whether it’s supported by anonymous sources or not.
A senseless death: Two men rob a liquor store on upper Georgia Avenue, according to an account in the Washington Post: “Based on the account of at least one other employee in the store, investigators believe that two men, one armed with a handgun, entered the business and demanded money from [employee Rufina] Hernandez. Hernandez ‘was cooperating and was fully complying with all the demands,’ [MPD Sgt. John] Johnson said, but one of the suspects ‘shot her anyway.’ The two suspects fled on foot, Johnson said.”