This Tweet has been making the rounds, and of course was RT’d by John Molinaro. It’s appealingly facile, and of course completely misleading.

For all the mumbling about the importance of traditional beat journalists ruling the roost in affairs related to Toronto FC, there seems to be an incredible misunderstanding about basic journalistic ethics on the part of some of these writers, particularly when it comes to the use of unnamed sources in detailing stories about the club.

Anonymous sources are important—nay integral—to all facets of print journalism, and that includes sports (NY Mag has a great take on the subject, which makes the distinction between bad and good journalists). But there are some general conventions in place to prevent abuse. Here’s the NPR Guideline on the matter for example:

Unidentified sources should rarely be heard at all and should never be heard attacking or praising others in our reports (with the possible rare exceptions of whistleblowers and individuals making allegations of sexual assault; see the longer discussion of anonymous sources in the section on transparency). While we recognize that some valuable information can only be obtained off the record, it is unfair to air a source’s opinion on a subject of coverage when the source’s identity and motives are shielded from scrutiny.

Or, if you want a less stringent take, the author of the NY Mag article adroitly writes, “The one easy, bona fide improvement [in journalism] is for more stories to describe unidentified sources in ways that give a reader some glimmer of their motivation for talking.”

Italics mine. None of these precautions were taken in Cathal Kelly’s Toronto Star piece on MLS’ supposed “interference” in the Olof Mellberg deal, which I critiqued yesterday. And there was certainly no even-handed attempt to question the motivation behind some of the anonymous commenters feeding Kelly what were essentially deliberately misleading accounts. Nor is he alone in the Toronto soccer scene.

The issue here is not the use of unnamed sources per se, but the lack of any “glimmer of their motivation for talking.”

If the beat journalists on Toronto FC can’t even get this basic ethical tenet right, what does this say about their overseers in the mainstream press?

Comments (9)

  1. Not only unnamed sources but no attempt to get a response from any of the individuals who were singled out in the story (winter, garber, ect). You can see the the exact same thing in an article Larson wrote about Heath ‘reneging’ on his ‘handshake’ deal with TFC.

    I would much rather read about the tactical ineptitude of Paul Mariner but I guess that isn’t really important.

    Good to see Rudi is fighting the good fight though. It’s much more important to back up a fellow ‘journalist’ than get the truth.

  2. Perhaps The Score should focus on some actual content rather than daily pieces slagging off the competition.

    The complete lack of professionalism here is stunning. Perhaps I should check out the hockey blog and see if there’s any better journalism there …

  3. Well…

    If John Molinaro wants to use an anonymous source, I’m OK with that. I’ve caught enough of his work that he’s established a reputation that I’m cool with. He has journalistic standards that lead me to conclude that he’s vetted the source and decided whether or not to share the message.

    That’s what journalists do, right? Investigate, weigh evidence, and share their conclusions along with the rationale behind them. If you don’t buy into their rationale, fine. That’s part of your privilege as a perceptive being.

    Similarly, As soon as I see who shared it, I have an idea of where the filters will lie. If other writers want to try an anonymous source, I’ll take it on a case by case basis. If they have established a reputation like JMo’s with me first, cool. If not, I have my grain of salt in hand.

    Speaking of reputations, I see one slipping. NFITZ: +1.

    • That’s your own very subjective take. I personally didn’t write about Molinaro in this case although he has relied on unnamed sources as with the Stuart Neely resignation and been in conflict with others in the same club.

      As for questions of my “professionalism,” well that’s interesting but doesn’t really pertain to my core arguments does it?

      • Richard, have you tried to contact Kelly to try to figure out his reasoning behind his use of unnamed sources. Seems to me it would be more professional to give the man a chance to defend himself. That said, I do find him to be a bit of a blathering douchebag. However, as other commentors on this blog have pointed out (myself included), it’s not a condition that you are entirely immune to. Perhaps you should focus on improving your reputation instead of trying to discredit others’ reputaions. Mr. Kelly is doing a fine job ruining his own without your help.

  4. Molinaro seems is more of a starstruck fanboy to be fair. Sometimes it can lead to bias, other times to nausea.

  5. The issue isn’t the use of “unnamed sources”. The issue is you get one side of the story, don’t corroborate anything anybody else says, don’t ask the league or anyone involved with De Rosario for their side of things, and then put that forward as the truth.

    Keep sticking it to them Richard, these idiots need to be called out on their stupidity more often.

  6. Richard, I’ve been a reporter for two decades. Sports has become the worst of a very bad bunch when it comes to ethical reporting; but most reporters now use “unnamed sources” with impunity. It’s a significant contributor to why there’s so little media trust.

    Additionally, I’d point out that the industry is much weaker in talent than it used to be; most of the people covering the team in Toronto have very little real reporting experience to begin with, and the idea of them producing work with depth, context and reliability belies the fact that they all work for (or own) outlets that depend on speed-to-market as their model, not exclusivity, reliability, context and depth.

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