Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Times Picayune has a new ombudsman. The NOPD.

In what amounts to a page one correction disguised as defensiveness, Brendan McCarthy reports that "Murder victim's identity incorrect." You see, yesterday Brendan reported that "N.O. murder suspect now a victim: He was sought in Christmas shooting." Turns out 18-year-old Eldrin George, wanted for murder and a series of Uptown armed robberies, is still alive.

How did this happen? How did Mr. McCarthy mess this up? He makes it clear that he had plenty of sources:
The Times-Picayune incorrectly reported in Wednesday's editions that George, 18, who has been implicated in a dozen armed robberies and the Christmas shooting of six people, was shot to death.

Seven police officers, including some officers close to the investigation, all speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times-Picayune that George had been killed. Some of the officers said the man's tattoos, scars and markings matched those of George. The Police Department, however, declined to publicly confirm the murder victim's identity, as did coroner's office spokesman John Gagliano.

Seven sources seems pretty good. How could they all get it wrong? But here's a good question, why wouldn't a single one of them go on the record? Perhaps because they all knew that their info wasn't good?

Granting sources anonymity should be done rarely and only when it serves a purpose. What purpose did it serve here? Was this such a worthwhile scoop that it warranted using shaky sources? And does the Picayune have any policy on use anonymous sources?

More importantly, shouldn't McCarthy have acknowledge in the initial story that he relied on anonymous sources? Perhaps even told us why the sources refused to go on the record? Of course, citing "anonymous sources who refuse to go on the record because their information is uncertain" doesn't make a good story. But it might have saved some embarrassment.

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