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Named sources are always better

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By Richard RoBards

When Judith Miller was arrested and jailed for not releasing to authorities the name of the person who outed then-undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, the world of journalism was turned upside down.

Realizing that it would be a long shot for me to receive Miller treatment in Central Kentucky because I wouldn't release a source to authorities didn't matter. News sources are sacred. But, then, we seldom use unnamed sources anyway.

That didn't matter either.

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed The Free Flow of Information Act.

While it's not totally out of the woods yet, the measure by the House brings a federal shield law closer to reality.

Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia protect reporters from being compelled to reveal confidential sources.

The recent rise in the number of subpoenas has given pause to newsrooms around the nation. Confidential sources, when revealing information about controversial story topics, will not talk if they know that the reporter may be compelled to reveal them.

On a national level, there evidently wouldn't be that much to write about if there was a requirement that a source be identified.

We understand that there is way more sensitive information the closer you get to controversial topics. In Washington, D.C., it's undercover CIA agents talking. In Campbellsville, we might hear some juicy tidbit of information, but, to date, we've always viewed the information as, well, information only good for helping us understand an issue rather than publicizing it.

Writer, editors and publishers have to have the credibility to discuss sensitive issues with people unwilling to be quoted so that we can get a feel for the assigned story and the issues surrounding it.

That being said, we're still looking for a source who can explain how four magistrates voted to keep Cat Hollow Road open when a majority of affected residents wanted it closed.

There may be some sensitive piece of information that explains that.

In the end, though, credibility to the reader comes with named sources ... someone who believes strongly enough in what he or she is saying to attribute their name to a sensitive quote.

Gathering news can be an interesting and frustrating job.

Lots of people are willing to ask and talk anonymously. We receive information regularly from "concerned citizens" or folks who want to tell us how badly we've botched coverage of this or that.

We can accept criticism. We don't necessarily like it, but we will listen. We listen better when the criticism has a name and a face.

We understand the procedure. We received a letter back in July that threatened to blow the cover off a blockbuster local story. It mapped out "documentation" that we could use to uncover the "facts."

The writer(s) said they were afraid of retaliation. We felt like if the information provided were true, then the messenger(s) would be protected by the truth and the people in charge would want to correct the wrongs.

As far as we know, nothing has come of the letter and the allegations it spelled out. The letter was sent to nearly 30 people.

The source who revealed Valerie Plame's undercover CIA status to Judith Miller doesn't live in Taylor County. If the source did, and we used them in a story, that source would be protected.

We just hope it doesn't come to that. We like our sources willing to speak for the record.