What words like “reportedly” and “sources tell us” really mean
Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR who’s best known for his real-time aggregation of news on Twitter during the Arab Spring uprisings, has a post on his personal blog that everyone who does similar work—which includes a lot of people at Bleacher Report—should read.
In When Reporting Breaking News, Words Matter – And Sometimes Languages, Too, Carvin examines the words journalists use in breaking news situations. Using the hypothetical example of what must be the most heavily covered cat ever to get stuck in a tree, Carvin reviews what meanings readers, listeners and aggregators should take from these well-worn phrases.
But there are other words and phrases [besides "confirmed"] that pepper the journalistic lexicon that may not seem so obvious to us, but in fact have a pretty clear meaning to the reporters saying them. Take the following example:
“We’re getting reports that the cat was rescued from the tree.”
When you hear that phrase, “We’re getting reports,” or some variant of it, it should tell you that the information being conveyed to you is very preliminary – so much so that you probably should take it with a grain of salt until further details are available.
Carvin covers such familiar constructions as “reportedly,” “it appears,” “sources tell us,” “an anonymous source tells us” and “we have learned,” describing what meaning you can glean from each about how confident reporters who use them are in their information. It’s vital information, and isn’t always as obvious as you might think.
I have confirmation that the next time there’s a breaking-news situation, I’m going to consult Carvin’s post.