Avoiding an Unpleasant Surprise

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On her blog, Wendy created an interesting analogy between anonymous quotes and sandwiches.  She explained, “anonymous quotes are like a mystery to what your mom puts in your lunch bag.”  This made me relate unsourced quotes to my own experience in my high school’s cafeteria.  At least once every other week, “the signature entrĂ©e” (as they called whatever was in the hot lunch line) was “tuna surprise.”  There was always endless speculation as to what the “surprise” was…however, since the “surprise” was a mystery and no student ever managed to drag out of a lunch lady what the “surprise” was, the general consensus was that the safest policy was to steer away from “tuna surprise.”

Relating this to journalism, your anonymous source is like the “surprise.” Since I didn’t know what else was with the tuna, I distrusted it and did not eat it.  In a similar fashion, readers will distrust an unnamed source.  Furthermore, the practice of avoiding the “tuna surprise” can also apply to avoiding using anonymous sources.  For just as we feared discovering the “surprise” too late, you don’t want to find out your source is unreliable after your article has been printed and read by thousands of people.  So unless you want to risk an unpleasant “surprise,” do your best to find something better to eat (or, in other words, do your best to find someone who is willing to be named). 

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