Verification and sourcing advice for those of us who aren’t perfect
One of the great things about the Internet is that you can correct your mistakes. Nothing is permanent, so if you mess up, you can go back and make it right. One of the worst things is that even if you correct your mistake, the mistake lives forever, right alongside the correction.
Did I mention how everything is permanent?
The solution to this quandary is to never make a mistake. But we all make mistakes, especially you over there rocking the UGG boots. So the real thing to do is everything you can to try to avoid errors.
If you’re careful and conscientious, you improve your chances of avoiding what happened in this Business Insider story about Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh buying 100 Tesla cars to launch a high-end car-sharing program—which was updated to say that Hsieh “says he has ‘never purchased a Tesla’ and he is ‘not creating a car rental service.’”
Other than that, the details in the original story were pretty right on.
The original story said “Business Insider was told” about Hsieh’s car-buying plan by “a Vegas entrepreneur.” Not exactly solid sourcing.
There are plenty of outlets, B.I. clearly among them, that believe in going with what you have and correcting it if the information doesn’t pan out. It’s a risk-reward game. You get more scoops that way, and you also publish more bogus rumors and get left with headlines like “Zappos CEO Did Not Buy 100 Teslas*”—a headline refuting a report that appeared nowhere except under that headline. And bonus: random asterisk.
It’s a philosophical question whether to follow that strategy, a strict policy of only publishing stories you’re absolutely sure about, or something in between.
Bleacher Report is on what I’ll call the extreme conservative end of that spectrum. Everything needs to be sourced, and B/R does not allow anonymous sources. In most cases, we don’t even allow original reporting. We don’t, and really couldn’t, have the editorial staff necessary to vet the reporting of so many writers. Obviously, there’s a place for original reporting in sports media. There are lots of great outfits doing it. It’s just not what B/R does.
What Bleacher Report does is follow strict rules about naming sources and verifying information. And even with those rules, it gets trickier all the time.
Here’s a piece in Media Matters that details how a bogus story from a satirical site wound up on Boston.com, the website affiliated with the Boston Globe, thanks to serial aggregation. One of the links in that aggregation chain was an automated service that can’t tell satire from real news reports.
There was human error along the way too, but the point is, something like “The Boston Globe has it” is not, by itself, sufficient verification. Caveat lector.
Here is one of our periodic reviews of some key B/R Blog posts on sourcing and verification:
And finally, here are Bleacher Report’s formal Attribution guidelines.