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New Reporting and Source Criticism: Never Allow Source to Take You for a Ride

anonymous-sources-in-journalism

Lars Møller
Trainer, BBC iLearn

1. Is the source real and genuine?
– Is the document a fraud?
– Is the person the one he claims he is?

2. Is the source near or distant to the event or problem?
– When was the source present – before, after and/or at the exact time of the event?
– Where was the source – close to or at the exact location?

3. Is the source presenting primary or second hand knowledge?
– Ask always: How do you know?
– Can I see the document, you refer to?

4. What are the motives for the source?

– Look for bias in the answers?
– Look for economical, political, personal connections to the case or its sources?

And be critical of yourself as a source:

– 1. Are you asking as a professional or are you engaged personally?
– 2. From where and when did you observe? And what couldn’t you see?
– 3. What do you know, and what do you think you know? Did you get all the facts right? Double check!
– 4. What is your bias? Beware of your own prejudice – and mood!
The Critical 10

Critical journalism is both a professional attitude and a creative method

When sources are met with our critical questions they accuse us for being negative. But our criticism is not negative it is a professional and actually a very creative working approach.
The critical questions are creative being both sceptical and concretizing.
Professional criticism both question the motives and capability of our sources improve the credibility of your sources.

1.Always get answers on the 5W and the H: Who did what, when, where, why and how?

2.Ask as concrete as possible: “How big? What was the address? How many years ago? What date? What time?” One definition of news is “Incredible but true!” – and such questions make the incredible true, or reveal if the information is not credible.

3.Try to establish a perspective of the information: You should not only ask: “How many?“ but also: “How many in relation to the previous years?”

4.Always ask: “How do you know that?” That is one of the most critical and concretizing questions. And stay with the question till you get an answer. Then ask: “Can you document that?”

5.A must is to ask: “Can you give an example?” That does not only make the story alive and real, but it is also difficult to concretize something that you haven’t experienced first hand – and in journalism we need first hand sources, not rumours!

6.Always ask for causes and consequences, which are the basic elements of news.

7.When a source claim, that he will do something to change a situation always ask: “What will you do? How? When? Can I write that?” Too many people talk bullshit when addressing a problem or criticizing others.

8.“Follow the money!” is one of the best leads in research. This goes also for interview. The money lead generates a lot of concretizing and critical questions:

a.“What does is cost? Where will you get the money from? On the expense of what?”

b.Regarding a specific initiative always ask the source: “What’s in it for you?” Wonder and ask for other motives?

c.On the more general level: “From where do they get their money?” Remember the hard core news definition: “News is information that someone want to hide – anything else is advertisement!”

d.Ask for the budget, the account.

9. Be the devil’s advocate: Ask the questions of the opponent, even to sources you agree with, because it sharpens their argumentation – or reveal if it is not well founded.

10. When someone complains and grumbles you should always ask them: “How does it affect your life?” and “What have you done to change or ease the situation?” It makes the grumbler more trustworthy – and sort out the professional grumblers.

And remember: Listen and follow up!

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