Journalism and sources.
This morning, I was reading a newspaper article about the Sendai nuclear plant, near Kagoshima. It was written by a French scholar who specializes in issues related to housing in general, and post-catastrophe housing in particular. It basically underlined the fact that Japan is facing important seismic activity (meaning volcanic activity, too) and that nuclear plants are more than ever dangerous. Then, she wrote “Japanese people express their concern about…” and I thought: “who are those Japanese people?” Maybe it starts to become a sort of weird hobby, looking at who says what in a certain context. Déformation professionnelle, as we say.
But I am very curious about this: do journalists have to cite their sources? I know that they also have the duty to protect their sources, but in this case, isn’t it a little dangerous? If you say that your source told you something and you cannot disclose who that is, then people have to believe what you say, without any proof. And sometimes you definitely see low quality articles being released and you wonder how that can still be called journalism. Sometimes, the fact that they do not have to cite their sources becomes frustrating, because you would need those sources. At least, when you read an academic piece, you’re sure that you should be able to trace back the sources. If you can’t, then you can be sure that the researchers could get into trouble. And it is certainly for the best.
“Japanese people”, “people say”, “we hear that”, etc. as we read newspapers on a daily basis, we are soaked in this kind of expressions and phrases. But we should actually try to avoid them. I remember being very disappointed at a seminar, when a professor (migration studies) started saying random things about how Japanese people are, to him, without bringing any academic proof of what he was saying. We could not help looking at each other, with Japanese researchers present that day, wondering how a 50 year-old researcher could babble about things he didn’t know well as if they were obvious, even though they are not. This just reminds me that I ought to be very careful, at all time, while writing articles and papers. Sources, sources, sources!