The Principles of Journalism teach us the first order of business is to pursue truth. In these pursuits, journalist have to seek out various and hopefully credible sources of information. Before the Internet, where could journalist seek out qualified and verified information on any subject? The library! Most libraries house historical and some government data on any subject you could imagine. It may not be as recent as yesterday, but it gives you a starting point on finding experts in the subject matter. Dallas Public Librarian Johanna Johnson said, “You might want to start with periodical indexes.” She also says, “The library may also house studies conducted by city governments.” This would come in handy if city hall is closed and you need to gain access to government records. Gregory Browder, also a Dallas Public Librarian, said, “Using a resources like Tapping the Government Grapevine: The User-Friendly Guide to U.S. Government Information Sources-Third Edition by Judith Robinson is a great way to find sources of government information.
Johanna does suggest going online and using EBSCOhost to build on sources obtained from the library. That brings us forward to the digital age and using the Internet. In investigative journalism, sources may often come from other new outlets and social media website. In a study released in 2012, conducted by Oriella PR Network, 55% of journalist relied on social media such as Twitter and Facebook to source and verify news stories. Deciphering what sources are legitimate, paid advertising, or fake is often a herculean task. Just recently, there was an incident where a Fox News reporter fell for a fake story that said President Obama was using his own money to keep a Muslim Museum open. It is not known where Fox obtained the misinformation.
Verify Credible Sources
Seeking out a credible source for this piece entailed consulting Dallas Morning News Investigative Journalist Miles Moffeit. Miles said he uses various research methods for obtaining sources depending on the story. He spoke of a recent story he was working on about the owner of a troubled hospital. Miles said, “My first step was to pull as much government documentation as I could on inspections of his hospitals and how they performed.” “Typically, with a long investigation into a problematic owner or somebody who’s been accused of some ethical or legal breaches, I’m going to start with documentation.” Miles went on to say, “It’s always best to have multiple sources as many sources as you can get depending on the degree of importance of the story.” “For complex investigative stories it’s however many sources it takes to get to the truth because that’s your goal; to ferret out the truth.” Miles said whistleblowers are great sources of information. He said, “If you’re doing a hard-hitting investigation, you want to go from the outside in which means you go to the people who may not have any interest in glossing over the problems.” Miles cautions you should always vet your sources by doing lots of checks. Especially criminal background checks. Criminal history is the number one way to torpedo source credibility.
Citizen Journalism as a source
Another aspect of sources is referred to as citizen journalism. CNN iReport utilizes written, video and photographic accounts from ordinary citizens in reporting the news. These accounts are usually from the scene as an incident is happening. In these instances it is often impossible to vet the source. Miles said, “That can be problematic if you don’t know who you are dealing with. I think it can be very helpful say if there is a tragedy, say an airplane crash and you have citizen journalist photographing important aspects of the problem out there on the ground then that can be really helpful. But if you are receiving material that is unsolicited and it’s not clear that there’s a problem it goes back to vetting just like you would vet a source on a story, you would need to vet your citizen journalist to get to know your “informants” really well before your use any material without a lot of scrutiny.” Miles went on to say, “There’s so much propaganda and false information on the web you want to triple check everything.” “You can’t afford to be mislead by anything so you want to go straight to the original source of the information.” However, the ultimate lesson to be learned and put in plain terms according to Miles, “The truth is the ultimate defense.” “Just verify, verify, verify and document and typically you’re going to be safe!”