The source is not the problem

A recent post on Gawker complained about what it called The New York Times showing former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's "flacks' extraordinary deference as the scandal unfolded" last year.

A recent post on Gawker complained about what it called The New York Times showing former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's “flacks' extraordinary deference as the scandal unfolded” last year.

Using public records, the blog posted e-mails between Spitzer's communications director Christine Anderson and reporters covering his dalliances as Client No. 9. Though the Times broke the story, Gawker accuses the paper of having too cozy of a relationship with PR professionals. True, there are places where it seems the journalists went above and beyond what was necessary in a professional relationship, such as asking for permission to call a source, but let's not forget who broke the story. The fact is that it often takes negotiation to get a great story. We can only see the e-mails; we don't know the content of the phone calls and meetings that no doubt also took place to put the initial piece and continuous follow-up stories together. It takes trade-offs with your sources and, yes, many times those sources are communications staffers.

In one instance, Gawker complains about a reporter double-checking a quote. Yes, this is better done over the phone where the quote is simply read back, but a reporter who knows his or her source, probably knows which ones are more quickly reached by e-mail, which by phone, etc. And in a critical story like this, you want your facts straight and you want it done in the fastest manner possible.

It's a strange world when Gawker (owner of Deadspin, which recently threw caution to the wind and published a bunch of rumors floating around at ESPN) is passing judgment on journalism ethics. It's actually an incredible bit of journalism – the old-fashioned kind, even – that Gawker pulled off, so kudos to it. But all it did was pull back the curtain a bit as to what it takes to build a story, which means building incredible sources that trust you. The report shouldn't make the Times or the communications professional in question ashamed.

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