Sunday, April 27, 2008

Anonymous Sources Must Be Used, Stanton Wrong

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, Approaching Mombasa--

Russ Stanton, the new editor of the L.A. Times, and Randy Harvey, the sports editor, have taken the wrong step in trying to crack down, in many instances, on the use of anonymous sources in the L.A. Times.

What this means is that (1) the paper won't be very interesting and (2) its reporters won't learn what's going on. The losers will be both reader loyalty and Times circulation.

I know there are exceptions to the rule against use of such sources in the Times policy, but altogether this is tighter than it's been in the past, and is a step backward not forward. Just today, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Barry Bearak (who formerly worked for the L.A. Times) has a long account in the New York Times of his recent arrest and imprisonment in Zimbabwe. If he had not used unnamed sources in that story, there would have not been a story. Obviously, he couldn't name the people in the security forces of the Mugabe regime who had helped him, without endangering them.

The fact is that the best sources won't talk to you most of the time, if they realize they are going to be identified. Every decent paper in the world uses anonymous sources, and the L.A. Times, sinking now all the time toward mediocrity, can simply not afford to be any different. Rather, it should be explaining to readers why they are necessary.

For Harvey to threaten his reporters with adverse marks in their personnel file if they violate the Times policy shows he is cowtowing to Stanton, the Tulare neophyte, and joining in the steady denigration of the Times as a world-class newspaper. It is the most serious mistake he has made as sports editor.

As far as Stanton is concerned, with the exception of his decision naming Davan Maharaj managing editor, he continues to show his lack of intellect and sophistication. Under him, and his patron, David Hiller, the paper is slowly becoming a laughing stock.

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