Source, the Oxford Dictionary says, is a place, person or thing from which something originates, or spring or fountainhead from which a river or stream issues, or a person who provides information.
The lords of the lexicon probably didn’t have the right sources. Or they would have added another line – ‘the lifeline for any scribe piecing the other words in this dictionary together to tell a story’. More for his or her editor than the readers.
Sources, for a reporter, are godsend. They are reliable, highly placed, knowledgeable, informed, or just plain un-prefixed.
They ought to be. Have you ever read a newspaper report citing an ‘unreliable source’? Or one that relies on ‘lowly placed sources’, or ‘ignorant sources’, or those grossly ‘uninformed’?
Wouldn’t it be fun to let lowly placed sources feed a scoop from the White House? Or have an unreliable source give inside info on manipulations in the stock market? I often itch to key a story quoting highly ignorant sources.
Sources lead us to another media pet – exclusive. More often than not, exclusives in English dailies across India are sourced from vernacular newspapers and developed upon. Poor packaging or underplay of reports by the latter usually increase the exclusivity of these exclusives.
Even if the exclusives are original, can they be really exclusive? Don’t the sources that supply them already know? And also those in their coterie? You can’t expect an elephant not to know its habitat has shrunk without tagging a bold ‘exclusive’ to a report on the plight of its herd.
There’s this classic case of a major English news channel airing an exclusive on militant outfits of Northeast India receiving guerrilla training in Yunan province of southern China. That ‘exclusive’ had come out as a truncated clip in another major news channel less than a fortnight earlier. Almost simultaneously, a Bengali daily from Guwahati carried the same report with more details as did a BBC correspondent on his blog.
There’s also this case of the correspondent of a Bangalore-based daily winning the PUCL award for reporting on human rights violation by the Indian army at Mokokchung town in Nagaland in December 2004. The entire report, albeit less smart-packaged, had come out a week earlier in a Jorhat (central Assam)-based English daily.
I am not one of those who haven’t been ‘inspired’ by reports in localized vernaculars. But I have also filed reports that didn’t come out anywhere else. Those could very well have been exclusives but for my belief that someone somewhere across the globe had done, is doing or will do a similar kind of story.
The world is too big, too wired for any piece of information to remain exclusive.
Unless you are the only one in Antarctica reporting on penguins fighting with AK-47s dumped by gun-runners on the run. Or deep down in the Mariana Trench following a fishy sexual escapade.
Readers – viewers too – are smart and educated enough to know what is exclusive or breaking news and what is not. But we would rather think we are smarter and more knowledgeable.
We are their sources, after all. A lowly placed, ignorant, uninformed and unreliable source said so.