Guide for Evaluating Sources

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Jun 27, 2008 in Journalism Basics

Question motives:

  •  What is the source’s agenda; what does the source have to gain by talking to you?
  •  Did the source come to you?
  •  Is the source hiding something, shifting blame, promoting a certain viewpoint?

Question relationships:

  •  What is the relationship between the reporter and the source?
  •  Do you fear losing the source?
  •  Did you choose this source because you are in a rush to deadline and this source is usually good for a colorful quote?
  •  Is there an alternative to this source?

Question reliability:

  •  What is the source's past reliability?
  •  What is the source's standing with his or her coworkers?
  •  How representative is this view?
  •  Is it one person with a complaint, or does this fit with other things that you have heard? How widely known is this particular information?
  •  What proof does the source offer?
  •  How can you verify the information?
  •  What more do I need to know to be able to evaluate the information? (Consult a reliable person with expertise in the subject.)
  •  How dedicated is the source to getting the story told?
  •  If the public knew where the information originated, would they have reason to doubt?
  •  Is this person the best authority?

Question assumptions:

  •  Are there underlying assumptions that my source depends on and that I should question?
  •  Are there underlying assumptions of mine that need to be questioned?
  •  As yourself: what are my own biases about this source, and my organization's bias?
  •  What important viewpoints are not represented by this source?
  •  As the source lays out the information, keep asking: How do you know this?