August 08, 2002

Tim Blair: 'I'm Never off t...

Tim Blair: 'I'm Never off the Record': A simple, article of consequence about the L.A. Times, and it'll be peppered with off-the-record quotes from nervous staffers. I was interviewed the other day, and the reporter, who's a good one, seemed almost surprised that I was willing to speak entirely on the record. We're not living in police states, folks, and our comments probably don't have much to do with National Security ...

Posted by at August 8, 2002 05:45 PM
Comments

matt, i don't think you've been reading enough because a number of people in this country have alerted me to the CRUSHING JACKBOOT OF FASCISM THAT AIMS FOR THE NECKS OF ALL WHO DARE SPEAK UP!!

be careful, matt.

i gotta go. i've said too much already...

Posted by: dan truly at August 8, 2002 08:07 PM

Matt,
You raised a good question. How credible do you find quotes that are given "off the record" and anonymous? (I mean, on articles you haven't written yourself). I know a lot of my j-school comrades purposely made up a lot of stuff just to strengthen their own "credibility" and p.o.v., attributing it ("it" being "the facts" to an "anonymous source"). Then they invoked the whole "the precious labor of journalism, we never reveal our source" bit (lying their asses off the whole time). I'm not saying you do that, but asking if you think a might of it goes on in papers?

Posted by: Emily at August 8, 2002 08:13 PM

I try, though fail, to never use them. When I fail, it is almost always out of laziness/necessity; i.e., I quoted a Republican campaign strategist not too far back in way that was pretty damning to Dubya ... but I *needed* that quote, and he couldn't possibly work if it was attributed to him, and I was on deadline.

When I was an editor I strove for a rule to explain exactly *why* someone was being quoted anonymously. Something like, "said a source in the Foreign Ministry, who didn't want his name used for fear of being fired." Forcing reporters to do that actually forces them to admit that way more than 50% of it is sheer laziness.

For instance, when you are living in a foreign capital (like Bratislava), and there's a repellent though non-dictatorial head of state (like Vladimir Meciar), you are in constant need of an authoritative-sounding Senior Western Diplomat to deliver ominous honks whenever the ol' thug re-nationalizes an industry, or arrests his political rival's son, or sells off a state asset to a crony. Problem is, no diplomat will go on the record; few ambassadors have a clue, so you end up using anonymous quotes from the same two-three Political Officers you drink & smoke & argue with in the off-hours.

As a reader, I rarely trust anonymous sources, especially when they are talking smack. I also rarely trust those p.o.v.-indicating phrases like "observers said," etc. They are the most convincing to me when A) the sources job-description *and* reason for being cowardly are defined as much as possible, B) the news organization is generally trustworthy (though the number that can be described that seems to shrink annually), and C) it isn't a smearing quote whose motivations seem transparently suspect.

Still, I should emphasize that I've never covered defense, nor ongoing FBI investigations, nor many of the types of stories that make you depend on anony-sources. Good journalism's tough.

*Blogs* that are anonymous, though, I have almost zero time for ... unless they're really funny.

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 8, 2002 09:13 PM

Anonymous + Funny = OK. I'll lay it out on the line and try to meet that challenge. http://lukedom">L.D. at August 8, 2002 10:01 PM

Interesting point about the anonybloggers. It seems like when you're doing opinion writing it's really vital that you at least be willing to stand up for your own opinions. I might feel better about some anonymous blogging if the bloggers in question provided some kind of identifying information and reasons for anonymity as per what you suggest for sources.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias at August 9, 2002 10:26 AM
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it that way more than 50% of it is sheer laziness.

For instance, when you are living in a foreign capital (like Bratislava), and there's a repellent though non-dictatorial head of state (like Vladimir Meciar), you are in constant need of an authoritative-sounding Senior Western Diplomat to deliver ominous honks whenever the ol' thug re-nationalizes an industry, or arrests his political rival's son, or sells off a state asset to a crony. Problem is, no diplomat will go on the record; few ambassadors have a clue, so you end up using anonymous quotes from the same two-three Political Officers you drink & smoke & argue with in the off-hours.

As a reader, I rarely trust anonymous sources, especially when they are talking smack. I also rarely trust those p.o.v.-indicating phrases like "observers said," etc. They are the most convincing to me when A) the sources job-description *and* reason for being cowardly are defined as much as possible, B) the news organization is generally trustworthy (though the number that can be described that seems to shrink annually), and C) it isn't a smearing quote whose motivations seem transparently suspect.

Still, I should emphasize that I've never covered defense, nor ongoing FBI investigations, nor many of the types of stories that make you depend on anony-sources. Good journalism's tough.

*Blogs* that are anonymous, though, I have almost zero time for ... unless they're really funny.

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 8, 2002 09:13 PM

Anonymous + Funny = OK. I'll lay it out on the line and try to meet that challenge. http://lukeduke.diaryland.com/020412_21.html

Posted by: L.D. at August 8, 2002 10:01 PM

Interesting point about the anonybloggers. It seems like when you're doing opinion writing it's really vital that you at least be willing to stand up for your own opinions. I might feel better about some anonymous blogging if the bloggers in question provided some kind of identifying information and reasons for anonymity as per what you suggest for sources.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias at August 9, 2002 10:26 AM
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