Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Secrets, Secrets

People and USWeekly regularly publish rumors on celebrity gossip, political turmoil and entertainment happenings. While the rumors are often unfounded, they appease the target celebrity gossip-hungry audience. Rumors are not exclusive to celebrity gossip publications alone, however. Though utilized less often, publications as respected as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times use unverified facts under certain circumstances. A major editorial dilemma arises in the balance between the first to report or the best to report.

The New York Times channels many of its rumors through DealBook, a website interface which covers major business deals. Its use of rumors can be observed in the April 14 article, "China's Ag Bank Said to Choose Underwriters." The article drops important facts, without ever disclosing a concrete source.

"Sources with direct knowledge of the matter," "sources told Reuters," and "sources said," are all forms of rumor citing used by The New York Times' DealBook.

The Wall Street Journal also embraces rumors in its Overheard section. The segment is a daily article devoted solely to unfounded news. This business newspaper section is far more tabloid-esque in its reporting, as seen in the June 6 article, "Overheard."

According to the article, "EMC and NetApp may not be the only suitors for Data Domain. We overhear that at least one other major tech company is circling."

This rumor does not even pretend to have an anonymous source. Rather, it appears that The Wall Street Journal is merely speculating.

In a journalistically utopian world, anonymous sources and rumors would have no place in reporting. In reality, however, the are often the only way for a newspaper to break news. With The New York Times' DealBook and The Wall Street Journal representing two sides of the reporting rumors continuum, I believe that editors should error on the side of The New York Times.

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