For this year’s annual ethics issue of Quill, we focused our attention toward a universal topic that affects the work of every reporter – the sources of our information. Every news story that we write or broadcast depends on outside sources, and the credibility of our work is inevitably attached to those individuals and documents we choose to present to our readers and viewers.
Ethical questions are commonplace in this business, and many of the recent ones have involved sourcing issues. On Page 10, read about covering the war on terrorism – differences and similarities from coverage of past military conflicts. We were reminded of the dangers of wartime reporting when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in late January. In addition to coping with the pain of Pearl’s disappearance and murder, Journal employees also found themselves in the awkward position of covering one of their own. Our story on Page 13 describes those difficult days in the Journal newsroom.
Other stories in this issue address more universal sourcing dilemmas. On Page 15, we look at the dangers of relying too heavily on the “usual suspects” – vocal representatives on one extreme or another of a particular topic – and the importance of finding voices from the middle. Our story on Page 18 examines the awkward relationship between journalists and public relations professionals, and how journalists can benefit from that relationship without sacrificing their credibility. On Page 22, SPJ Ethics Co-Chair Fred Brown discusses the dangers of over-using anecdotal sources in a story.
Our stories are only as good as our sources, and our credibility often hinges on how we use those sources.
Jeff Mohl is the editor of Quill.