Why Don’t Journalists Cite Sources?

One question that has come up is a bit surprising to me, but given our bizarre news cycle not unexpected. Why don’t journalists cite sources? There are a few simple reasons they don’t cite sources, one is innocent and the other is a bit maniacal.

Reason 1: They want to “break” it themself

One reason a journalist may not cite a particular source is because a source was another newspaper or journalist and they don’t want to give credit where credit is due. During the era of my radio talk show on WHO Radio, I’d often break stories or find fascinating angles that weren’t on most journalist’s radar.

One particular news source that will go unnamed would regularly rip off my content, write their own story and not once did they source my show. They wanted the credit for finding the angle.

So, why don’t journalists cite sources in this case? Because of their ego, and because they don’t want their competition getting credit.

Reason 2: They are protecting someone or something

The tragedy of journalism is writing a piece that has unintended or severe consequences. For example, writing about a toilet paper shortage that doesn’t really exist, therefore causing the shortage you wrote about (Sound familiar?) or revealing a witness to a murder trial, therefore putting them at risk.

In rare cases, a journalist will not cite a personal source to protect them. Ideally this is a rarity and the journalists editor should be able to independently verify the source exists.

Why don’t journalists cite sources in this case? To protect a source and maintain their anonymity.

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Reason 3: They’re Lazy

Just like any other vertical, there are great journalists and there are crappy ones. Great journalists meticulously source their data and cite their sources. They care about journalism, they care about their own credibility, they care about their publication and they care about truth.

Sadly, some journalists just rely on their memory as good enough. It’s not. I fell victim to laziness a few times and my Washington Post editor, Matt McFarland called my on it for this very piece. (No Pay Wall Link)

As a pistol shooter, I made the idiotic mistake of assuming barrel length increased the accuracy of a round. I was 100% convinced, and Matt called me on it, asking me to verify this belief. Begrudgingly, I asked Season 1 winner of History Channel’s Top Shot competition and editor of Recoil Magazine. “With a longer barrel, the propellant has more time to burn, pushing the bullet faster and delivering more power…” explained Iain Harrison.

Why don’t journalists cite sources in this case? Because they’re lazy and think they know better.

Reason 4: They cheat and care more about their own bias.

Some journalists don’t care about truth or honesty. They don’t care about future credibility and have no problem crying wolf. The reason these journalists don’t cite a source is because their agenda and bias matter more to them than the truth.

Simply put, the answer to “why don’t journalists cite sources” is simply because they’d rather convince you to believe a lie, than confront the truth themself. Journalists like this used to be extremely rare, but within the last several years, I’ve seen many push false stories because they believe the ends justify the means. This is wrong.

Conclusion: why don’t journalists cite sources?

The next time you ask why don’t journalists cite sources, it’s because sometimes whether by accident or intentionally, journalists that pen truth is hard work. Really hard work.

Hi, I’m Justin. I’m a writer, podcaster and entrepreneur. I cultivate & amplify emerging tech companies’ stories, reaching millions of people.

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