Sunday, April 5, 2009

Anonymous Source Epidemic Continues; Teri Karush Rogers Interviews "A Man."

In today's Real Estate section cover story on families moving into coveted public school districts, writer Teri Karush Rogers makes liberal use of an anonymous source who she identifies only as "a man."

All right, Teri, fair enough -- that does narrow it down a bit.

Rogers's rules transgression -- the Times policy specifically warns reporters to use anonymity only as “a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information is not available any other way” -- comes only two weeks after Public Editor Clark Hoyt blasted the NYT for its continued dependence on anonymity in lifestyle stories.

In Hoyt's piece, NYT standards editor Craig R. Whitney declared: “The bar should be far higher than it is before a reporter puts an anonymous quote in and before an editor lets it stay in.”

Oh, well. Maybe next time.

This time, Rogers interviewed an Upper West Side couple who were considering "gaming" the system to ensure that their child would get into a public school. Rogers justified this compelling disclosure to readers by saying he was remaining anonymous for "obvious reasons."

Obvious to whom? Maybe to Rogers and the editor of the Real Estate section, but not obvious to readers in this context:

A man who lives in the same school zone as Ms. Knafo says he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get his son into a preferred kindergarten.

“I will certainly consider some alternative way to game the system by gaining a different address,” said the man, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. “This is my child, who is a really smart kid, and he’s not going to my crummy zoned school. That’s just not going to happen.”

When he and his wife bought their $1.6 million six-room apartment a year and a half ago, they had envisioned his alma mater, a prestigious private school, as the place to send their son. . He and his wife both still have jobs and could probably scrape together the tuition. But their financial optimism has dimmed.

“I think it’s all part of the end of the wishful-thinking era, where you just think you’re going to grow into your expenses,” he said. “We’ve had successively bigger mortgages and we say: ‘It’s always a stretch. That’s all right; in a couple of years we’ll have more money.’ But now we’ve had to get a little more real.”

Indeed, the boom-inflated price of the real estate they occupy has worsened the situation. “I think of my father, who had three kids in private school when I grew up,” the man said. “His home probably cost him two or three times his income. So there was some money left over for school. But that math doesn’t work anymore. Most people I know own apartments that cost five or six times their income. And most people are spending so much money on their apartments there is nothing left for private schools.”

Did Rogers really need to allow "the man" to remain unidentified so he could wax eloquent on his theories about the "wishful thinking" era? That can't be what Whitney meant by raising the bar.


Anonymous said...

There's a big difference between the use of public-official anon sources and man-on-the-street anon sources.

I personally think the latter is quite forgivable. If a woman is going to diss the lobby decor of her friend, of course she is going to do so anonymously. People say all sorts of things behind others' backs that they don't say to their faces. People will be candid in some circumstances and not in others. Disallowing use of the anonymous source ignores this aspect of human nature.

Ditto for a guy complaining about his school district. This man is talking about possibly violating city regulations to get his kid into a certain school. It is disingenuous for nytpicker, who is not stupid, to say, wide-eyed, "obvious to whom."

Quotes in the paper live on forever online. If this man went on the record about gaming the school districting system, that would not be to his advantage. And so he wouldn't talk at all.

This, I find is a real problem for reporters. People simply don't want to talk because they know their words will come up on Google indefinitely. My friend with a broken engagement 20 years ago is a wreck about this. The number-one hit for her name is her NYT engagement announcement, when they still ran engagements. She is still unhappily single and the guy is married to someone else, with kids. It's embarrassing, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

The reasons seem obvious to me too.

I think the main reason to avoid anonymity is when it allows people to hide their motives. I think the motives are pretty clear here.

The real target for anonymous leaking are the folks in government who use the press to advance their agendas. There's nothing wrong with that. If the agendas don't advance, then the government will do even less than it already does.

I see nothing wrong with, "An anonymous source at the Department of Interior said that the new budget cuts would decimate the National Park service by forcing them to fire rescue rangers in order to save enough money to keep paying the executives like the anonymous source."

People can see through this. I'm not even sure it's helpful to have some name attached to a quote like this. Why?

Anonymous said...

Now if only the Times still had a Metro section, they wouldn't have to cover our local schools in the real estate section.

Anonymous said...

Teri Rogers is a cunt.