Even a reporter for a high school paper will tell you, it's kind of a basic rule of journalism: Get more than one source and don't just print anonymous rumors. It's what separates a news source from your gossipy aunt.
But for some reason, sports journalism is more than happy to pour a glass of wine, pull up a chair and mutter conspiratorially about whether your cousin Jessie looks pregnant and how she heard from a certain someone that Uncle Tim lost his job. Look around: One in ten sports news stories doesn't manage to have more than two sources, at least one of them "a source close to the situation."
This week's new low, on ESPN, is a story on Alex Rodriguez's gambling issues that uses two anonymous sources for all of its information. It's like getting your news from Craigslist.
Why is sports reporting so shoddy? Maybe sports news breaks too fast, maybe everyone's too tight-lipped, maybe the reporters get lazy.
It doesn't matter. Fans are too desperate for news to really care. In fact, "inside source" sounds special, secretive and knowledgeable. Anybody can interview the coach and get quotes; it takes an expert to call up a long-retired GM and label him an anonymous insider.
So what can be done? Here are three ideas to bring integrity and standards to sports journalism.
Maybe stop printing crap rumors all the time? The funniest thing about all the secret insider sources is that they're so often wrong. Ubaldo Jimenez is traded to the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Rangers six times each in the media -- and he's staying in Denver just as often -- before he's actually traded to the Indians. Inside sources don't work. So stop trying to get the first scoop even if it's wrong; it's like that kid who raises his hand first in class but thinks Hitler lost the Cold War because of Henry VIII.
Give all anonymous sources Deep Throat-like codenames: Front office officials will always fear losing their jobs, and they'll probably never go on record. So at least have some fun with it: instead of "a source close to the team" and "an NFL scout" all the time, call them Binky and Six-Toe Fred. Say The Beemaster gave you a tip. If you make readers suffer through empty rumor, at least let us picture The Horse Source talking about them.
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Stop saying "Sources say" and just print it as fact: That's what the best of us do.