The Media

In Which The Missoulian Totally Jumps the Shark

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In the wake of the Jordan Graham guilty plea, the Missoulian offered a story that contained an unusual journalistic technique: printing quotes from anonymous Twitter feeds.

From the story by Alice Miller:

“I think they should’ve held out for first (degree murder). She would have been found guilty. At least no parole,” an anonymous Twitter handle set up to advocate for Johnson tweeted to a reporter.

“Please send thoughts & prayers to Cody’s mom Sherry. Had a tough week, but she’s a true inspiration. Love you Sherry,” @whokilledCody tweeted later.

As I often like to mention with a certain degree of snark, I don’t have a journalism degree. Perhaps ethical standards have changed, but it’s impossible for me to imagine how such a quote either informs the public or meets basic journalistic standards. It’s bad enough when reporters give cover to anonymous political sources who are clearly self-interested, but at least there’s a real person at the other end of the interview.

It’s sloppy—and a terrible precedent, even if a new, totally credible source for the Missoulian would disagree:

mis

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

6 Comments

  • Until I read Miller’s story, I was not aware that Twitter accounts concerning the trial had been established. Miller followed standard practices for quotations and attribution, and presented the twits as part of the reaction to the guilty plea. I disagree with Don on this. I found the information useful and relevant.

    Overall, of course, I found the whole business depressing. Another tawdry homicide glorified because it occurred in beautiful Glacier National Park.

    I wonder, incidentally, how many readers noticed that one of the prosecutors was Zeno Baucus. That’s Max’s son. His artwork used to be on Max’s Christmas cards.

    • I think my concern is threefold, James.

      First, it’s just lazy. There wasn’t an actual person with a name available to express the opinions in those quotes?

      Second, the practice lets people make comments without consequences. While we’re all entitled to an opinion on this (or any) story, newspapers should hold people accountable for their opinions in news stories. There was no journalistic demand for anonymity here.

      Finally, it’s dangerous practice. How does the reporter determine what is a legitimate anonymous account to cite? A Twitter account attached to a real person might be a legitimate source, but how does a reporter determine without knowing who’s writing the account? How hard would it be to create fake Twitter accounts to promote almost any agenda?

      I just don’t think it makes good sense for the Missoulian to do this.

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