Expanding True’s Sources

A quick note about This is True’s story sources. When I started True, I wanted my stories to be from “mainstream, legitimate newspapers” — with an early addition being the weekly news magazines (like Time and Newsweek). I’ve always stayed away from broadcast sources, since I always want a printed version of a story to rely on.

Evolution Happens

With virtually all news media having web sites now, which provide those all-important text versions of their stories, I have from time to time considered updating the policy and allowing broadcast news outlets — but only if I can get a text version of the story from their web site.

As of this month, with CNN announcing it’s creating a wire service for newspapers to compete head to head with the 150-year-old Associated Press, I am as of now going to start using CNN’s written stories as a source for True, as CNN is now a newspaper story source.

So how much should I expand this? I always want to stay with “mainstream, legitimate” news sources — never tabloids like the National Enquirer (or, worse, the freakish Weekly World News.) Should I allow stories from local TV news stations? Sometimes we see great stories on local TV news web sites, but haven’t found the story in the local newspaper in the same city.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this. The comments form is open and ready to receive your feedback below.

– – –

The conclusion: the source list was expanded to include any “legitimate, mainstream” news outlet, including broadcast sources, if there was a published text version.

25 Comments on “Expanding True’s Sources

  1. Your current methods have created a source of media that is funny with integrity. This isn’t something that other news sources that try to be funny do (which is fine).

    So why change it?

    While you might broaden your pool of stories from week to week, you also run the risk of compromising the integrity that your list has.

    In my opinion, keep doing what you are doing as you are doing it. After all, having somebody in the media who reports with integrity seems to be difficult to find these days. I can tell you that I do get extra enjoyment out of your stories knowing that they really are true.

    Definitely a good question, Cory! I should have made that more explicit. Because: “things change.” Newspapers are dying. The Christian Science Monitor, for instance, was once well regarded, but they have had to cease paper publication, and are now “only” a web site. I didn’t use them very often, but I occasionally did; because they’re not a newspaper anymore, they are no longer eligible as a source under the current policy. Yet they have the same management and reporting staff. It’s an arbitrary cutoff.

    To be sure, I’ll always use “legitimate, mainstream” news sources, so I don’t expect any change in the legitimacy of the stories. The question is, with newspapers dying and other media expanding, should I expand my circle a bit? Because the current circle is getting smaller and smaller as time goes by. -rc

  2. Randy, I’ve always found that the people who worry most about whether other people trust them are the people I trust most.

    In other words, the fact that you use a source in THIS IS TRUE tells me that it’s a legitimate source, because I know you wouldn’t want TRUE’s reputation (and yours, by extension) sullied by a bad one.

    So I say expand your reading horizons if you need to, but remain vigilant before you include it in TRUE. If you find an article that’s great, but it sets off your BS detector, don’t use it without collaboration.

    The news world is changing, and there’s no reason for you to continue an already challenging project with one hand tied behind your back.

  3. Follow your readers into non-paper media, Randy, or they will leave you behind. Groxx already gets non-paper submissions, and I’ll bet those submitters are getting discouraged because you don’t include their stuff.

    It’s a waste of effort to go chasing down a paper source of a non-paper story that’s right in front of you. Every TV station on Earth has its content in text form online.

    OTOH, you may need another research assistant to keep up with the brave new world of non-paper leads. But you know where to find one.

    On yet another hand, you covering newspapers leaves True readers free to ignore them. Maybe that’s your niche! 🙂

  4. Your careful choice of sources is important, and I’m sure you will always use common sense when you chose them, but it’s not a life or death situation we’re talking about here. TIT is entertainment, not national security, not brain surgery. This should help you sleep at night if a new story source turns out to be imperfect. If it doesn’t help you sleep at night, I will bring you some warm milk.

    I think you tend to be overly careful, and although I commend you for your care, but I also think you can loosen up a bit.

    The world is a very funny place and if you broaden your horizons a little I think you will allow a few more guffaws to leak in. This can only help TIT become an even more entertaining place to visit.

    Have you considered the possibility of using funny personal stories from readers? I think everybody must have a couple to share. Again, maybe not mainstream, but possibly very entertaining.

    I wouldn’t use funny reader stories — not as part of TRUE’s regular story line-up. It would have to be a new publication if I did them regularly (there are already some here and there in the reader letters), but I’m just not up to starting another publication at this time. -rc

  5. Go for it. Your judgement has at least not been inept so far, with the worst possibility being that you have been too cautious. I think the main thing is what you have been doing, staying away from the Weekly Weird News. Just don’t start quoting the Onion unless you do that for an April 1 edition…

  6. I have to ride the fence on this one. I agree that you should certainly “follow your readers” into the expanding world of electronic journalism. But in your original blog post, you specifically asked if you should expand your sources to include TV station web sites. And I question the competence and integrity of many small TV news staffs.

    I know that sounds like a horrible slam. But I don’t mean it to be. The reality is, however, that the smaller the station… even the “big” stations in smaller markets, as well as a few “small” stations in larger markets… anyway, the smaller the station, the more likely their staff includes a great number of young, unseasoned talent among their reporters, editors and producers. It isn’t that the stories they might post are full of lies. But they might be full of holes–caused, perhaps, by incomplete, inadequate reporting or shallow analysis. Or the stories might include certain inconsistencies or hyperbole that would make them “good for TV” but more than a little over-the-top if presented in print.

    Finally, TV news stories, especially at the local-station level, rely almost exclusively on their propensity to provide good video to determine their viability and/or importance. (Hence an old saw, “If it bleeds, it leads.”) True enough, a picture can be worth a thousand words. But some pictures do not lend themselves well to subsequent description in print.

    So beware of your sources. Turn up the sensitivity level on your “B.S.-o-meter” and take a crack at it. But I wouldn’t expect you to find many usable stories from local American TV station web sites. And yet, I hope you prove me wrong. I have faith that there are a certain number of young journalists who are genuinely seeking to be the best that they can be, and in turn, do their best for the Fourth Estate.

    Sure, I’m aware of the problem. But you’re giving newspapers much too much credit. They axe experienced (read: more expensive) reporters for recent J-school grads all the time. Editors? We don’t need no stinkin’ editors! (Have you SEEN some of the sloppy copy that goes out on the AP wire?!) I frankly don’t think TV news could be too much worse. Or, to look at it another way, I don’t think newspapers are that much better. Indeed the BS-o-Meter has to be on pretty much all the time in any case! And yeah: I’d like to prove us both wrong…! -rc

  7. What? No Weekly World News??

    Okay, on a more serious note… I think that if you can find a legitimate news source that has an online text version of a story, that would be fine. Your eye for “legitimate” has always — when I’ve had a way to verify it — seemed pretty solid. It is of course your decision, but I would definitely support your suggested expansion.

    (Maybe Weekly World News could be the source for that April 1st edition that’s also getting inspiration from the Onion. On second thought, maybe not….)

  8. For the record, I think people are joking, but an April Fools edition is a horrible idea. If people can’t tell that the Onion’s Harry Potter story isn’t true, they’ll get googly confused by fake stories in THIS IS TRUE.

    Again, I think people are joking, but the idea needs to be killed before someone says, “Wait a minute, that just might work!”

    No worries: I haven’t done an “AF Edition” in the past 15 years, and I’m not going to start now. -rc

  9. Randy, I agree with those agreeing with your move. I’d also like to see you use outside-USA online sources — ie BBC or CBC.

    Virtually every issue has foreign stories. My goal is to be half U.S., half foreign, but there isn’t enough good stuff in English for me to do that very often. But indeed BBC and CBC would help push toward that. -rc

  10. If you can find a “legitimate” news source with a story worthy of True, whether it be print or an online text version of a broadcast story, I say go for it. In the years I’ve subscribed to True, first for free then the premium, I’ve found that you do your best to verify stories you use, and I doubt this would change any just because you were using online sources vs “hard copy” ones.

  11. Any source you feel to be legit should be used, whether it be a newspaper or TV. I agree about not using tabloids. If you feel a lesser known source to be legit, use it. Sometimes, each type of media would have different stories that the other doesn’t have.

    You’ve been doing well so far with your sources, and I think it’s a good idea to expand it, especially if you feel you aren’t getting enough stories.

    I’m not sure what else to say, so I’ll stop now [smile].

  12. Your stories are recent, and the source can be checked if someone wants to get more info about it. As you said, broadcast news is now available on their websites for a short time if someone wants to verify a story. TV news sites have to continually update their sites which causes older stories to drop off, but even newspaper sites archive their stories after a few weeks, making them available only at a fee. As for the journalistic integrity of either the print or broadcast media, it’s more telling, not in what they say, but what they leave out.

  13. I really think you need to be careful here. While I consider the text stories that are posted directly to the local TV station’s website as fairly good, I have seen that the transcripts of the actual broadcasts for the same station to be horribly inaccuarate and incomplete. It definitely seems as though these are done by two different groups. The first by reporters, the second by interns/office staff. It may seem like a minor distiction, but I thought I’d warn you (and everyone else) of the issue. I’d recommend checking a few for yourself, as a test, before deciding to use transcripts in general.

    I doubt I’ll use transcripts for anything but quotes, and even then I’d check it against the video. My intent is to only get story details from printed text stories, not transcripts. -rc

  14. Just out of curiosity, what does a wire service look like in the internet age?

    As regards sources, tread softly.

    You are persistent in reminding people that your “Stella Awards” are the real deal (and rightly so), so with a title like “This is True” on your bread and butter project, even _one_ “urban legend” getting through could hurt your credibility permanently. It’s not like you are facing a dearth of material, are you?

    (Completely off topic, but is “Two Time Winner of the ‘This is True’ Tagline Challenge” something I should add to my Resume? Are there many others who can claim such glory?)

    (I don’t know if you’re the only one with that distinction, actually. I’ve never invested the time to do statistics on them. -rc)

  15. Playing devil’s advocate, I wasn’t at all serious about the April Fools edition, but it could be fun if you called it “This Isn’t True” or “This Is False”. Maybe a way to blow off steam once a year.

    It probably wouldn’t be as good tho. Someone said that truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to sound plausible.

    The way I have it on the front page is, “Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.” As for blowing off steam, that’s what TRUE is! I use it to blow off steam every week! -rc

  16. I hardly ever use the newspaper for my news anymore. Aside from very local news (city/county stuff), which I get from my local newspaper’s website, if I want news I’m likely going to either local TV sites or CNN/BBC sites. With everything available in text online, I see no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of it just as your readers are. I think it would also make it easier for you to find the international stories you want, as you’ll have sources outside AP/Reuters.

    As for whether it’s legitimate, you already have to make that decision for newspapers, and I don’t think you’ll have much trouble doing it for broadcast media websites. This will also allow you to expand to other internet-only sources (Slate or Salon, for example). I trust you to figure out whether the story is legitimate and the source is mainstream.

    Overall, I think it’s a great idea.

  17. A simple yes or no decision on the legitimacy of a source may not be the way to go. News source trustworthiness is a spectrum. You could assign (or find) ratings, say 1 to 5, decide how much news you want to/need to plow through to get your material, then add top-rated sources to the “OK” list until you have enough. Review the list every once in a while, because things do change.

    I wouldn’t limit yourself by media type except for convenience. Material in English that’s readily available on the web from a source on your OK list is the goal. “Only from newspapers” just gets in the way.

    One broadcast source you could definitely add is National Public Radio in the US. Their news is good, much of it is original, and there are transcripts on the web.

    (On “Morning Edition”, there is a weird-but-true note at the bottom of the hour, two per day. I have been known to turn the radio on to catch that, then off when the actual news starts again.)

  18. I’m like a couple of posters – I get the majority of my news from web sites since I travel a lot and daily papers would just pile up.

    I am in agreement with opening up the sources — basically it needs to be from a place you can refer to with the other guidelines you have already mentioned. I am not advocating you putting the link to every source in your columns – but you have posted some and made references as appropriate.

  19. I think adding CNN to your sources is a good idea. Having worked with the AP newswire, and been disappointed with its quality (I work for a small “local” radio station), I think that multiple resources are a must.

    The AP newswire can be very limited in what it allows its clients to post and use (ie. The station I work for is RI, so you are “allowed” to see local stories from RI and MA, but nowhere else in the country, stories expire after 14 days).

    I hope that CNN can compete with AP on this venture and offer us “little guys” a better solution.

  20. Hey now, don’t be knocking the Weekly World News. It’s really hilarious sometimes. I don’t read it often, but when I do, I enjoy mentally categorizing stories (it’s like BS-detector training). 1. Obviously fake, absurd (e.g. “Elvis sighted on far side of moon”). 2. Conceivable, but unlikely, and WWN probably made it up or wildly exaggerated something factual. 3. Fairly plausible, probably has happened somewhere, but nonetheless THIS story looks like WWN made it up or exaggerated. 4. Probably an actual true account. Some of category 4 and a few of category 3 are the kind of stories that you could publish in True… IF you could verify them.

    Which brings me to my serious point. I think you should, and will have to, expand your sources. But you already know that caution is required. We faced – but didn’t definitely resolve – the same problem when I was on a law review. Law reviews favor printed sources too, but you’ve explained the problem with that. I spent more than one afternoon scrolling through microfilms trying to find a print version of an online story.

    I had a very rough mental ranking: anything available in PDF is approaching as good as a printed source. Online press releases were next up. Then online news articles with bylines or from wire sources, or other known publishers. Anything below that, we would ask the author to try to find something better if it was something they relied on heavily, or write cautiously if not (e.g., “So-and-so reported that xyz. If true, that would…”). The second approach is no good for you, obviously.

    Oh, and obviously my ranking also requires consideration of the source. Some press releases are fluff. I would probably trust a blog posting from the NYT more than a PDF from an unknown website. Though I wouldn’t think you would use a blog posting ever for your purposes. The ones that are most reliable generally point you to a primary source anyway.

  21. Newspapers like to think of themselves the purest keepers of the journalistic flame, but they are in a serious decline, both in readership and, in my opinion, integrity.

    With so many of them merging, reducing staff, and outright going under, your pool for potential stories is shrinking. The need to expand your sources is inevitable.

    What about maintaining True’s integrity? The very fact you are airing this concern bodes well. Transperancy and vigilance, and the rest will take care of itself.

  22. I’ll join the choir and say I hope you do find more sources, if you really want to go down that path. (I’m thinking maybe doing so will take even MORE of your time!)

    A number of people have mentioned your integrity, and that’s something that shines through in every issue. When I first started reading your publications, I did check them out — and then, over time, I realized I didn’t need to do that, as your stories *always* checked out.

    I used to do an occasional private-circulation newsletter for foreign friends here, and I know what it’s like to get burned, since I ended up printing something I genuinely believed to be true only to find out it wasn’t. Ouch!

    Whatever you decide, I plan to keep on reading….

  23. I suggest not restricting your sources – but verify every story by other sources or by calling the place involved. This has gotten a lot easier in the last phew years 🙂

    You miss a basic point of TRUE. It’s not about doing original reporting, it’s about commenting on the existing news. -rc

  24. Considering your new change, would it be possible to cite both media type and city? It may no longer be the case, but I still remember the days when WNEW-AM, WNEW-FM, and WNEW-TV, all in NYC, seemed to have different news feeds (or at least different filters). I could easily see someone who wanted to see what viewers/listeners were saying about the story having a harder time than necessary finding the story.

    If it’s true that one “station” had multiple and separate news operations, that’s got to be so rare as to not be worthy of the effort to figure out. -rc

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