On sources and rumours

In light of FMK’s much commented upon remarks I guess I should respond, given that my blog has been implicated, and complained about. I guess I should quote the remarks, but as Colm noted, none of these complaints are personal. Here is the Yahoo Groups comment:

Yesterday, Gavin informed his readers that “sources” had reliably
informed him that the man shot dead in Stockwell tube station was
definitely wearing a bomb belt. Today, the police are embarassed to
have to admit that the shooting was one monumental cock-up. Does this
sort of reporting of rumour as fact, dressing gossip up with words
like sources (which could be anything from Pop Bitch to the PM)
really help? Does it make the blogosphere look like the heir to the
Fourth Estate that so many bloggers claim it is, or does it make the
blogosphere look like one of the more cheap and tawdry tabloids, with
no real interest in fact and only interested in sensationalism and
being the first with the story?

And then on the Sigla Blog

Did the blogosphere handle yesteday’s shooting on the London Underground appropriately, or did posts like Gavin’s claim that “sourcesâ€? had confirmed to him that the shot man was wearing a bomb belt feel to you more and more like the lowest-common-denominator tabloid reporting of the likes of Sky News, reporting from the sort of news outlets that are happier to be first with the story rather than right? What “sourcesâ€? were Slugger and Gavin relying on? Pop Bitch?

I think before moving onto the substantive issue at question I should ask my readers the following: does the post in question warrant the description given? To the point the post was described as :

Gavin informed his readers that “sources” had reliably informed him that the man shot dead in Stockwell tube station was definitely wearing a bomb belt…claim that “sourcesâ€? had confirmed to him that the shot man was wearing a bomb belt…

‘Reliably’, ‘definately’ and ‘confirmed’ are the crux words here I would guess. If my post is considered to be any of those, could readers let me know, perhaps I am not qualifiying my posts enough. I would have thought that…

We shall have to wait for confirmation.

…would have covered my ass. Or if you thought the above qualification did not cover my ass sufficiently, then maybe my ass is too big. And if big media is fact-checking their asses, then the Irish Times frontpage, a story by Frank Millar on the following day could be looked at:

The Metropolitan Police say the man shot dead by officers at Stockwell tube station in London yesterday was “directly linked” to their ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation. Frank Millar, London Editor, reports.

However, amid conflicting reports last night, it was not clear whether the Asian man, who had been under surveillance, was one of the four suspects in Thursday’s unsuccessful attempt to bomb London’s transport network.

As police released CCTV images of the four men wanted for questioning about the attempt to cause explosions on three Underground trains and a bus, Muslim leaders expressed concern about a possible “shoot-to-kill” policy.

Gosh. And I wrote my post at 6pm on Friday, that’s the front page of the IT on Saturday morning.

As for my sources, they remain anonymous as long as they choose. And if you don’t like that, read a different blog, like Sigla’s Blog. Where there will definately be no speculation, rumour, conjecture, or anything besides considered thoughts on events. And that’s fair enough, whatever floats your boat. I choose to do different stuff, if readers like it then they do, if they don’t then, well, they don’t.

I don’t believe I have ever been up to “peddling rumour as fact”, but if you think I have drop me a line. Leave a comment. At least blogs allow people to do that.

On a side note, my sources were reliable in relation to earlier events, for example finding out that the explosions were only the detonators, and the actual bombs had failed to go off, and I posted that at 2.00pm, only 35 minutes after I heard the first reports of explosions on the News at One. In fact I had it direct from multiple sources, either at the scene, or indirectly from witnesses. I guess I could say that it helps when you know hacks in London, and people who work on the Underground. But even with all that I didn’t play it up, I just said it’s more than likely just the detonators. So if that is peddling rumours then I’m guilty.

More on the substantive issue of the reason blogs exist later.

4 thoughts on “On sources and rumours”

  1. When my aggregator delivers the word “sources” to me I read it as “multiple, fact-checked authoritative observations” because I reserve special standing to the noun “sources” from the days I lived with the son of a Watergate “plumber”. Sigla’s challenge to Gavin’s coverage and Gavin’s subsequent explanation of how he amalgates coverage with the help of anonymous friends puts gives things a different slant in the recent story on the maybeabomber.

    Blogs have always been “sources for courses” and the blogosphere’s reaction to the London bombings adds another litmus test for citizen journalism. In my opinion, since I read “News of the World” I know how to read between the lines of fast, two-way reportage. Gavin’s blog fills in a lot of gaps for me, all sources considered.

  2. Long ago the Duke of Edinburgh complained about the Daily Express. He said it was a “bloody awful newspaper”. The following day or week, I can’t remember which, there was a cartoon by Giles in the paper. It showed Lord Beaverbrook, the then owner of the paper being escorted in chains into the Tower of London. He was shown saying “it may be a bloody awful newspaper, but at least he reads it”

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