Be wary of placing trust in “sources”
Transfer deadline week is much of a frenzy for football journos. Which player is going where? Who’s talking to who? Which club will be making that eight-figure splash at the last minute? Questions, questions … and the increasingly hassled hack will be expected to provide most of the answers.
This is when the most quoted source is “sources”, especially on Sky Sports News as the countdown to the closing of the window ticks away and their hyperventilating reporters wax lyrically outside frequently deserted training grounds. Even if they have nothing to report, which is often, that is not what the boss back at Sky HQ wants to hear.
So “sources” are given credit for any small snippet of information, whether absolutely spot on or so far from the truth to be laughable. This is because as “sources” are not named or identified – apart from being “close to the club” or “close to the player” or “highly placed” – they cannot be blamed should the move collapse.
Which it does regularly.
If, that is, it was ever on the cards in the first place; if it was not just a figment of everyone’s imagination, from player to agent to club to journo. A “source” can even be a fellow journo, who allegedly has the inside track and is prepared to share it with you as long as you reciprocate in kind in the future.
That the “tip” does not come true is almost irrelevant nowadays. The desk has got its story, which is enough to keep them sweet, and I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been told: “Well, it was a good yarn, anyway”. So, that’s alright then? That it was totally wrong does not enter the equation. Small wonder that I became disillusioned with my profession many years ago.
“Well, it was a good yarn, anyway”. I repeat, what kind of answer is that to, basically, an untruth being printed on paper or on a website or broadcast over the airwaves? This, it would seem, does not matter any more in the race to be first with the “news”. All the ethics drummed into me as a fledgeling scribe have gone. And more’s the pity.
Mind you, it’s been coming for years. I recall once “stacking up” a story, proving its validity and telling my head honcho that I was prepared to write the article but without naming my source. Had I named him, he would have been fired from his job, and my-word-is-my-bond pledge to him would have been trashed.
Aforementioned head honcho demanded that I name my source, at least to him if not in the story. I declined, sticking by the decades-old mantra of “A good journalist never reveals his sources”. Head honcho exploded, refused to run the story – because, I suspect, he did not believe it was legit or he felt that his authority had been undermined – and that was it.
Until the next morning, when a rival paper did run the story – which, very quickly, was proved to be 100 per cent correct. As I knew it was. I could not resist making a “told you so” aside to the red-faced head honcho and, it is fair to say, that our relationship was never the same again.
So, “sources” have their use. Of course they do. In an age when getting any official info from a club, especially in the Premier League or Championship, requires emails in triplicate, numerous phonecalls and multiple texts, sometimes sent again and again over not days but weeks before an answer is forthcoming, any “inside” help is gratefully accepted.
It is the fact that “sources” are so roundly abused, such an easy default function for a journo struggling to stack up his story or having to face the wrath of his boss from hell, that angers me. And consider this? In what other job would you be forgiven for, perhaps seven times out of ten, getting it wrong?
Ten times you wrote apparently authoritatively about a projected transfer and, on only three occasions, you got it right. Not a great percentage, is it? I’m not sure that, say, an air traffic controller or a barrister would get away with that. A P45 would be swiftly despatched.
Yet if those three spot-on stories were maybe “exclusives”, the other seven failures can be consigned to the dustbin and barely fretted over. Some of the best “diggers” in my profession – those who unearth true tales – have made huge reputations and earnt small fortunes with a success rate of maybe just two out of ten. Yes, you couldn’t make it up.
So what is a good source? Perhaps HP Sauce. A guarenteed tangy accompaniment to any basic food. Every time. But a football source? I’m sorry, unless you’re desperate for a good yarn, you can’t always trust it.