The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that a journalist’s right to protect a source is not absolute, which puts in jeopardy the relationship between reporters and those who divulge facts leading to stories under the condition of anonymity.
An unnamed source can be valuable because that person is often the launching pad or somebody who can add information that fills in the blanks on stories as they develop. The reasons that they don’t want to be identified are that it may affect personal relationships, job security and sometimes even safety.
The Supreme Court ruling means that each situation will be judged on a case-by-case basis, but it likely won’t affect the golf media since matters in that realm won’t have consequences for public safety or national security. That doesn’t mean, however, that unnamed sources are without controversy.
Continuing with our series on the Canadian golf media, I’ve had several people who I have approached on a controversial subject say that they won’t comment on a particularly touchy subject until I told them where I was getting my information.
To divulge that identity would be suicide for a writer, which makes the Supreme Court ruling so important. A journalist’s success is based on having contacts with inside information, who can be the key to providing an important story or a unique perspective to a media outlet, which we discussed in yesterday’s blog.
If that contact requests anonymity, then a reporter must keep that promise if the information is accepted, but the use of such sources isn’t without its detractors, including the people who must answer questions on controversial stories and readers of that story.
I understand both sides of that issue.
The reporter in each case usually trusts the anonymous contact because he or she has gotten to know and worked with that source.
In many cases, the source has no reason to lie or spread a rumour, but there’s no way for the public or the person who must comment on the record for the story to understand the comfort level between the reporter and contact.
On the other hand, the use of anonymous sources is open to misuse and you wonder if the practice might be a ruse, in many cases, in order to carry out a vendetta or back up a personal opinion, among other reasons.
Still, anonymous sources and off-the-record information are important avenues for reporters to take in order to break a story and set their media outlet apart in a competitive industry. It can sometimes backfire, as well.
Let’s use last week’s story about Canadian Sean Foley taking over as Tiger Woods’ coach, which was hatched through the use of anonymous sources.
Anything to do with Tiger is news nowadays, even more than it was when he was just a golfing phenom. His much-publicized auto accident, ensuing tales of infidelity and marital uncertainty have become an open book for the public, and despite outward disgust by many, the soap opera is being devoured.
The entire saga is threatening to derail Woods’ glorious career on the golf course, so if a Canadian such as Foley can get him back on track, it’s certainly big news in these parts. Foley has denied such a connection.
However, an interesting development took place this week when coach Hank Haney resigned from Team Tiger, which is bound to fuel the speculation about Foley once again.
One theory being batted about is that Foley didn’t want to say anything when the story first broke because Haney was still with Tiger, who is also known to be controlling, especially about what gets out into the public.
Knowing Foley as I do, he would need a good reason for such a denial, but who can blame him considering what may be ahead if this turns out to be true? The jury is still out in my book, but whatever happens may not take place for awhile depending on how long Woods will be out with his neck injury.
For however long that takes, the media will be sniffing around this story and looking for a new development. Reporters have often been told something isn’t true, only to discover, much to their chagrin that it is, so they won’t let go of this bone.
Whatever does develop, if anything, an anonymous source could very well play an important role in breaking the story.