Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Who Told You That?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Who Told You That?

Article excerpt

Arizona columnist's firing raises sourcing questions

When The Arizona Republic fired columnist Julie Amparano recently after she failed to prove the existence of nearly a dozen sources, industry observers branded the 39-year-old writer an embarrassment to journalism and another in a string of reporters who have crossed the ethical line.

But the case of Amparano, who was dismissed last month after being given 24 hours to produce the sources, also raises the question of how much information reporters need to obtain from those they interview to prove their existence.

While most would agree with Amparano's contention that not all reporters verify the exact identity of every person they interview especially in "man-on-the-street" pieces the idea that a reporter is not able to prove the existence of a source quoted in a story is a valid cause for concern, according to journalism veterans.

"The responsibility of the journalist is to know who the person is that they are interviewing and be able to find them later on," says Steve Geimann, a veteran Washington journalist and chair of the Society of Professional Journalists' ethics committee.

"But it is excessive to expect reporters to do an identity check on everyone they talk to. I think expecting reporters to check ids against dmv [Department of Motor Vehicles] records goes too far."

But others, such as Keith Woods, who teaches media ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., say accountability and precision are such important facets of journalism that every effort to confirm a source's identity is critical.

"It is reasonable to expect that some of the people you contact for stories provide phone numbers and names," says Woods. "When you don't, it is reasonable for editors to become suspicious. It is prudent to keep that kind of paper trail."

Amparano was fired Aug. 20 after a two-day editorial review of her columns failed to prove the existence of some sources.

The review began after co-workers speculated that Amparano might have made up sources' names. One red flag was raised when a person named "Jennifer Morgan" appeared in two columns with different occupations listed. A further review showed that the same woman was mentioned in two previous stories Amparano had written as a reporter in the past, which listed the woman with still other occupations. …

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