Single Sourcing Is the Source of News Evil

I am mortified by lazy reporting this morning. I’ve been looking over stories about Verizon requesting a California judge reject Apple’s request to bar numerous Galaxy-branded smartphones or tablets from selling in the United States. I have yet to find one story that cites the original source—Verizon’s filing. They all instead refer to a FOSS Patents blog post. According to the court calendar, a motion hearing is scheduled for October 13 (I looked).

FOSS Patents is not credible-enough source, because its story on this topic, as with others, is generally one person’s perspective. More importantly, in this case, original source material should be available through the court’s PACER system, which is where I assume FOSS got the Verizon filing (I don’t know).

Journalists are taught—and should remember, and bloggers should learn—that there are at least two sides to every story. One of the most effective ways of presenting all sides of the story is seeking out multiple sources. Another is to let the reporting drive the story. Perhaps 80 percent of my news stories start with one premise—eh, hypothesis—that turns out to be wrong. The reporting, based on sourcing, leads to a different story than I had envisioned. The stories would have been much different had I stuck to my preconception or followed a single source. Occasionally, some of my news stories may cite one source, but others are always consulted for balance.

There is an ongoing problem of sourcing on the web today, and its propagation of rumor is staggering. News aggregators and, perhaps worse, news blogs regurgitate news in the most insidious way: Double-one-sideness, by sourcing one side of often single-sourced stories. Aggregators, like so many other blogs, typically source news to another blog or news site rather than doing original reporting. This kind of sourcing legitimizes what in this era of rumor as news could be factually flawed. A good journalist does original reporting, starting with seeking out additional or even independent sources. The objective is two-fold: Accuracy and objectivity.

Using a single source is often careless. Referring to another blog or news source as single source is reckless. Reporting news based on a single, anonymous source is negligence. Good journalists are mindful of their sourcing, particularly those sources who aren’t identified. Gossip and rumor run amok masked as news. Let me clear: Just because everybody says something is true doesn’t make it that way. It’s my observation that most rumor posts remain uncorrected when later proved to be wrong.

Journalists need to get back to basics and source stories from credible sources, not someone else reporting X, Y or Z. Bloggers aspiring to be good journalists must adapt to standards of accuracy, accountability and, most importantly, sourcing. Accuracy and accountability standards are difficult to maintain without good sourcing. Sourcing another blog or news site without seeking to extend the story is weak journalism at best.

Returning to FOSS patents as single source in the Verizon filing, the rampant one-sourcing also presents a decidedly one-side perspective: Florian Mueller’s own analysis of what the filing means. But is it balanced? Mueller gives a nice clinical perspective, akin to a corner’s autopsy (that’s not a criticism but hat tip to thoroughness). More importantly, in the dozen or so stories I read today, not one indicated attempts to contact Verizon for comment, or Apple.

Verizon has many good reasons to side against Apple in the Samsung dispute. The wireless carrier spent more than $100 million launching the Droid brand in autumn 2009 and, presumably, as much or more since promoting the brand. Verizon recently launched the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE. There is no LTE iPad. An injunction would stop sales of this high-speed data-network tablet and handful of smartphones. Verizon has invested billions building up and promoting its LTE network. Additionally, in the one-sourced stories, I see no one asking why Verizon would turn against Apple after so recently getting iPhone 4 and iPad on its network.

My purpose here isn’t to dissect Mueller’s analysis or question his credibility, so I’ll stop there. But I do question the credibility of ever blogger or journalist who cites him as single source on a Verizon filing when the original source material is available. I do feel somewhat differently about Apple’s legal proceedings in Germany, however. Most journalists covering that case couldn’t read the court filings/rulings and Mueller is a native-German speaker.

Perhaps I’m testier than usual about the topic, having watched yesterday on cable “Shattered Glass“, which recounts the sordid saga of a journalist making up all or portions of his stories written for The New Republic in the late 1990s. My question to all news writers: How do you know that single source is credible when you seek out no others? You don’t.