“ESPNCricinfo understands”

by Devanshu Mehta

I’m old enough to remember a time when Cricinfo did very little first-hand reporting. Then there was a time when they did a lot of first-hand reporting, but never wrote about a developing story until it was confirmed publicly. These days, we get this:

The BCCI president N Srinivasan and his CSA counterpart Chris Nenzani have “in principle agreed” for India to play three ODIs, a warm-up game and two Tests in South Africa in December, ESPNcricinfo understands. [..] India is likely to start the tour with one-dayers. [..] some progress appears to have been made. [..] It is unclear whether the BCCI and CSA have reached an agreement. [..] There is understood to be a split in the CSA board.

Such tortured language. How do I separate what the author knows, from what the author thinks, from what he heard, from what he…

As a reader, here is what I want to know:

  • What is the author sure about?
  • What is conjecture?
  • What is from a first-hand source?
  • What, among these things, is the first-hand source sure about?
  • And finally, how well-placed is the first-hand source?

What I’m asking here may not be standard-practice in cricket journalism, but it is in high-quality journalism around the world. The last line (“there is understood to be“) is the worst offender– understood by whom? Amol Karhadkar (author), the source, people at the BCCI, people around the Cricinfo offices? Also, sources come in many flavors, with many personal agendas.

From Saturday’s New York Times:

“Self-censorship has become the most effective weapon,” said the editor in chief of a prominent publishing house in Beijing that publishes more than 300 foreign titles a year, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The above passage satisfies each one of my issues: I know enough to decide whether I should trust the source, and it’s a direct quote, so it separates the author’s opinion or conjecture from that of the source. I also understand that sometimes an anonymous source can’t be quoted, but can only be used on deep background. In my opinion, that should be rare and be used only when the author is ~100% confident in its veracity.

To be clear, I’m not against anonymous sources. They’re valuable, and I’m sure that without them, there is little that can be written about the BCCI. However, it’s valuable to remember that everyone at the BCCI has an agenda. Everyone. I’m willing to trust your sources, but treat the reader like an adult.

I don’t mean to pick on Amol Karhadkar in particular, but since most of these loosely sourced articles are about the BCCI, they are usually written by him (and Firdose Moonda).

And I’m not questioning the ethics of Cricinfo. They are stellar. I am asking Cricinfo to revise the style-guide (and policies) on anonymous sources.

Notes:

1. I’ve often been asked why I go after Cricinfo when they’re hardly the worst offender. Well, it’s because I love Cricinfo, they have a very high standard and I hold them to it. I don’t read the worst offenders, they’re not worth my time.

2. I once asked a Cricinfo writer about these things on Twitter , and was told “this is how journalism works”. Thank you.

See also: National Public Radio Anonymous Sourcing Guidelines

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