Whatever Happened to Evaluate the Source?

I should preface this by saying that I have a history degree, and a masters degree in journalism.  I’m not saying that to brag (really, those weren’t tough), but rather to point out for as long as I have been being educated people have been hammering the notion of evaluating the source into my head.

Why do people fail to do that now in this world of instant information?

It seems like the need for constant content has overtaken the common sense notion of actually evaluating whether that content has any worth or merit to it at all.  It’s more important to get something up, right or wrong, than it is to be silent on an issue.

This little rant has been inspired by the twitter feed of Rotoworld’s Chris Wesseling the other day. Not because Wesseling is guilty of any of this, but because he started digging up and posting old articles that went up in the off-season surrounding Peyton Manning, and the sheer idiocy that was being posted as news and content at the time.

All of these articles contain the juicy bits of information about Manning and his potential future, but how many of them come from people you would actually listen to on the subject? Manning’s future was a medical issue, then a physical issue, then a debate in his own camp and even his own head about what team to choose. The number of people that had accurate information at every stage of that process is minimal, and likely doesn’t include anybody that provided the information for any of these articles.

I’m sure I could have called up a bunch of friends and asked their opinion on whether Manning would ever play again and how his arm would look, but since I would trust their medical expertise about as much as I would trust the guarantee on those penis-enlargement emails my spam folder gets bombarded with, why bother?

Unfortunately journalists get paid to produce column inches, so anybody that has something interesting to say to them tends to find his words filling those column inches without anybody giving a crap if the guy in question could find his own asshole without a map. Bar talk has essentially become news as long as you manage to find a writer to fire the talk at and you have a close enough vague association with someone in the story that you can be referred to as ‘a source with knowledge of’ or ‘a source close to’.

For example: Personnel men to @realfreemancbs in Feb: “Serious doubts” Manning would ever play again “or at the very least will miss most of 2012.”

OK. What personnel men? What does he know about it and why should I care what he thinks on the subject? There are plenty of personnel men in the NFL I have a pretty low opinion of on face value, and that’s before we get anywhere near whether they actually have any knowledge whatsoever of the Manning situation. Are those personnel guys just guessing, or did they actually talk to Manning? I’d say that makes a pretty big difference to the information.

How about his destination?  Two people “close” to the Manning family tell WIP’s Howard Eskin that Peyton Manning is “very likely” to be a Redskin in 2012.

Close to the Manning family? That could be their dog walker, and just because they’re close to the family doesn’t mean they’ve ever exchanged two words on the subject. But they think he’s very likely to be a Washington Redskin, so let’s not bother to evaluate any further, that’s a money quote right there!

In late January, @JasonColeYahoo reported that “people close to” Peyton Manning believed his career to be over. Oops. Another swing and a miss for Manning’s golfing buddies. As Wesseling tweets, the next day Manning said he had no plans to retire and expected to receive medical clearance soon, and Cole’s article itself pointed to Manning’s words just a week before in which he was similarly confident.

In essence all the facts pointed to taking Manning at his word, a word that was proven right on the money, but articles were run with other points of view because they made headlines. The points of view never appeared coming from anybody with any credibility, and thanks to the modern culture of ‘unnamed sources’, we were never afforded the chance to evaluate and judge any of the sources for ourselves.

I understand that at times the media needs to offer anonymity in order to secure information, but that has become far too often the accepted norm, rather than the exception. We’re not discussing matters of national security here. Nobody is leaking classified information. There aren’t redacted CIA documents and microfilms involved, this is football, it’s entertainment!

People need to get back to the days of speaking their mind and standing by whatever they say. Who gives a crap if you think Manning won’t make it back, it’s not like he wasn’t determined enough to prove people wrong already. Stand up and put your name by your quote, don’t hide behind ‘sources close to the Manning family’.

As for reporters. If you won’t allow us the chance to evaluate the source for ourselves, at least do us the favor of doing so yourself. Save me any more articles based on the opinion of someone I wouldn’t trust to recommend a lunch order.

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