Stop the presses! USA Today reported on Friday that it’s heard the NFL is exploring where a team could play temporarily in Los Angeles, maybe, while a new stadium was possibly being built, if that happens, possibly, says some guy:
The league plans to soon begin talks with existing stadiums in the Los Angeles area in an effort to provide temporary housing for any team or teams that might relocate there, if any, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
This is totally expected, since the league needs to do due diligence if it’s going to consider approving a move of either the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and/or Oakland Raiders. And, for that matter, it’s also totally expected that the NFL might want to leak this to the papers for their own purposes, as a way of turning up the heat on St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland to get new stadium plans in gear already, instead of mucking around with whether it would be legal or whether it makes any sense. You might even wonder if USA Today is being used by the league here for PR purposes, with the whole “asked not to be identified” thing serving as cover so the NFL doesn’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions.
In fact, let’s see what USA Today’s editorial ethics policy has to say about basing stories on the testimony of unnamed sources:
The use of unnamed sources erodes our credibility and should be avoided.
Okay, that’s not a good start. But what about when, you know, you really really don’t want to avoid it?
The identity of an unnamed source must be shared with and approved by a managing editor prior to publication. The managing editor must be confident that the information presented to the reader is accurate, not just that someone said it. This usually will require confirmation from a second source or from documents…
Anonymous sources must be cited only as a last resort. This applies not just to direct quotes but to the use of anonymous sources generally. Before accepting their use for publication, an editor must be confident that there is no better way to present the information and that the information is important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust. This is not to be taken lightly…
Unnamed sources should be described as precisely as possible. Additionally, reporters and editors should explain why the source could not be identified and if possible, add any information that establishes the credibility of a source on the subject matter in question.
Obviously, we as readers have no way of knowing whether USA Today’s managing editor signed off on this, whether a “second source or documents” was provided, and whether the information was “important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust.” Still, at best, this seems like bending the “Don’t use unnamed sources unless absolutely necessary” rule for the sake of a juicy headline, even if it’s not a story that necessarily tells anyone much of anything. Which goes on all the time, of course, but that doesn’t make it any better a way of running a journalistic railroad.