In theory, anonymous sources are a last resort. Reporters are challenged to get people to speak on the record, but sometimes that’s just not possible. If the source remains unnamed, it must be a trade-off for candor and quality of information. Of course, there are times when information a source ardently believes to be true … turns out to be false. That’s why independent corroboration by a reporter is key. Bad sourcing or lax oversight can result in the equivalent of a journalistic drive-by shooting, aided and abetted by information cloaked in a shroud of anonymity.
This comes from Don Ohlmeyer, the ombudsman at ESPN, in his latest column about the use of anonymous sources. So using an anonymous source is a “last resort?” So we’re led to believe that ESPN exhausted all avenues with their recent reporting on LeBron James, yes? Let’s take a quick look:
This is from a May 21 article on ESPN.com:
- Before Cuban’s entry, the most prevalent rumor had William Wesley, better known as “Worldwide Wes,” offering James and Calipari as a package deal to teams around the league. A person close to Wesley, who is a friend and advisor to James, denied the reports to ESPN’s Andy Katz earlier this week.
A person close to Wesley? His mom? His barber? Who? Seems like something the reader would want to know.
The following are all from the same ESPN story on May 18 by Andy Katz:
A source with direct knowledge of the Chicago Bulls front office’s plans says the team believes it has the right players in place — namely, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng — to surround LeBron James when it makes its case with the free agent-to-be on July 1. But the source said there has been no discussion of bringing Kentucky coach John Calipari in with James as part of a package deal.
- Another league source told the Chicago Tribune that another person, described as an “unknown Calipari connection,” contacted the Bulls over the weekend.
- However, ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Broussard reported Monday on “SportsCenter” that according to his sources, James is not demanding Calipari coach him on whichever team he plays for next season.
- And a source close to Wesley told ESPN.com that Wesley had not contacted the Bulls or any other team about a James/Calipari package deal.
- A source with knowledge of the Los Angeles Clippers’ thinking denied there had been any contact with Wesley or any other inquiries about Calipari. The source called the report linking Wesley to the Clippers “inaccurate.”
- Another Western Conference front-office executive questioned the validity of the story, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com via text message, “Nobody’s buying that.”
- But a source close to Wesley said it was “insulting” to assume that Calipari could get an NBA coaching job only with James’ help.
- Multiple sources close to Calipari have also recently said it would take at least $5 million a year to bring him back to the NBA.
- The Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., reported Sunday that according to league sources, James has contacted Rose to express interest in playing with him.
- But the source close to Wesley said James has not made a decision and that leaving Ohio won’t be easy.
Wow, not a single piece of “news” is actually attributed to anyone in the article. But Andy did find someone to go on the record: Josh Cribbs of the Browns, who said Cleveland “wouldn’t be the same” without James.
That’s some mighty fine reporting.
Chad Ford has this game on May 13:
- Within minutes of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ elimination at the hands of the Celtics, the speculation about LeBron James’ next destination resumed in full force. In the space of five minutes I heard from three NBA GMs via text, e-mail and phone. All three said that based on the information they have, they believe LeBron will leave the Cavs.
Three GMs, huh? Of course, Chad conveniently didn’t provide any names so we’re left to wonder if these GMs are real or not.
And let’s not forget the infamous free agent “summit” that is coming up:
- A source told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that the Toronto Raptor’s Chris Bosh also will join Wade, James and Johnson when they discuss free agency.
It just goes on, and on and on.
Anonymous sources have a role in journalism, for example when dealing with government officials making decisions that impact millions of people.
But passing on rumors about athletes without proper attribution just comes off as lazy and ridiculous.
Just another sunny day in the Summer of LeBron.