Category Archives: Quality

Anonymous Sources – is it ethical to use them?

Bloggers increasingly like to refer to themselves as “citizen journalists.” However, in spite of the title, some writers might not actually use journalistic standards when they prepare information for others in their blogs and even in books they might write.

As a professionally trained journalist, I’ve learned that if you want to establish yourself as a writer with credibility, whether you are writing for a newspaper, a magazine, a book, or a blog, it helps to observe journalistic standards. And, if you want people to take your writing seriously as a piece of credible information, it helps to be careful when you use unnamed sources.

The Anonymity of the Web

Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to say just about anything – true or not. While there is good information out there, it’s also possible to run into information that is less than credible. One of the things that makes it hard to determine whether or not you can trust something is the anonymous, and semi-anonymous, nature of the Web.

It’s possible to say almost anything about anyone, and not get “caught.” However, even though the Internet seems to thrive on anonymous name-calling, if you want credibility, you need to watch out for using unnamed sources, especially if that source is name-calling.

One example is a recent post written on The Verge about the new Digg. While there were plenty of sources cited, there was one, unnamed, “source in the aggregation industry” that was quoted. I understand why a source close to aggregators and marketers might want to keep a low profile on this one. And the first part of the quote, “The fact that these folks are pissed off is a good sign,” I don’t have a problem with, per se, even though I think that there are probably other insiders and experts who would probably have shared similar information on the record.

My issue comes in when the source started calling out names, singling out two marketers, and referring to them as “shady online marketing scum who tried their best to ruin the organic Internet.” When you start making those sorts of name-calling accusations, my opinion is that you should have the guts to come clean about your identity. One of the issues with the Internet today is that it is so easy to hide behind anonymity when you want to say something rude about someone else.

When to Use Anonymous Sources

 Of course, there are times when it makes sense to use unnamed sources. The most compelling reason is when the source could lose his or her job, or be ostracized by the community to which he or she belongs. When personal safety is involved, such as getting information from a criminal informant, it also makes sense to grant anonymity to the source. But that anonymity comes with greater responsibility. If you are going to use an unnamed source in the article, it should be accompanied by the following:

  • Thorough research and evidence
  • On the record sources who back up the statement, or information
  • Independent verification of the source’s identity
  • Verification that the source can actually speak to the issue at hand

Most of the time, though, there isn’t much need for unnamed sources. For most stories, you can find people willing to share their names along with their opinions and information.

So, do I trust an anonymous source engaging in name-calling, or do I trust someone that went on the record in that self-same article? Anonymous sources call creditability into question. A named source is always more credible than a non-named source. As a result, if you want to be a more credible writer, it makes sense to avoid using anonymous sources, unless you have verified the information as best you can, and you can demonstrate a compelling reason to keep those sources’ names out of it.

Miranda Marquit is a journalistically trained freelance writer and professional blogger. Her blog is Planting Money Seeds.

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...

Yes, Even Warren Buffett Can Be Boring for a Writer

I was reading BARRON’S over the weekend and came across a book review of a Warren Buffett business biography, to which the book’s author was apparently assigned.

Buffett’s Great, This Book Isn’t

What? How could a book about the philanthropist Oracle of Omaha, who saves companies, advises Barack Obama, and refused to get sucked into buying bad mortgage CDOs, be boring?

First off, I am a book reviewer as well as a writer and ghostwriter. Like Andrew Bary, I have struggled in the past to like some books that should have been good. An example of this is BAD BOY BALLMER, an exploration of Microsoft CEO Stev Ballmer. The anti-Microsoft bias damaged the book in my opinion. The author took exception to my review even though I attempted to be positive—because I’ve been in the trenches. I know what a feat it is to complete a book, especially one with a complex subject. One memorable line from the book “Ballmer is large. Ballmer contains multitudes.” I also know what an even bigger coup it is to get a book published, by a major publishing house at that.

And when the subject, such as Buffett, has been extensively written about, and by his own admission doesn’t have any outside interests or juicy stories (the article by Bary admits this), writing an 838-page book (an even more Herculean achievement) is bound to be an uphill task. You are going to annoy some people with the way that you do it and never mind the hours of wishing that you’d never chirpily agreed to take it on, because after all, how hard could it be with a famous subject?

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with ghostwriting? As ghostwriters, we often start out with a subject we think is going to be fabulous, phenomenal, the stuff of dreams and blockbusters. David Leonhardt notes in his post “Ghost writers need to eat, too” that clients often come to us with an idea they think will make a bestseller even though there’s no money now.

I’ve taken on pro bono work because I believed in the cause.

I rarely do it now. 

It’s all too easy to spend hours getting carpal tunnel syndrome and backaches and ignore the outside world, then lose the fire and stubbornly continue because you’re stuck. It happens in our own projects, except we can usually set those aside without guilt. When there are other people involved, it’s harder to clear all moorings and push off from the desert isle of No Name where all once-glittering novels and screenplays languish. I’ve had a few clients/friends realize on their own that they weren’t ready for prime time.

Was the Buffett book this author was commissioned to write ready for prime time? I’m going to reserve judgment, as I haven’t read the book.

I can speak in defense of the author from a purely practical standpoint, however. Once again, I have been there.

I have written about subjects I had no attachment to and could care less about (coin collecting, for example), but had fun with them at times. I have done writing jobs that were so obscure only five people who knew about the subject would be interested. This does not describe any current THGM clients.

Word to ghOStwriters and ghostwriting clients: The most exciting and glamorous subject or personality in the world can become as difficult a project as, to use David’s example, ditchdigging. There are several reasons for this.

  1. The subject is already completely well-known, as with Warren Buffett, Elvis, “Star Trek” (with its legions of love-to-argue fans), Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Marie Antoinette (Antonia Fraser’s book, which inspired a movie, is reputed to have broken new ground). An essay of mine, “Abraham Lincoln, YouTube and History Reconsidered,” excerpedt in a forthcoming Lincoln Bicentennial anthology (NLAPW), reexamines Honest Abe in the context of modern politics. But chances are that your subject has been so well-covered that you might have difficulty finding something new to say–unless you’re interviewing Abe’s ghost.
  2. The subject is completely controversial, or the angle is opposite to the accpeted view, and you are certain to risk offending people, to the point of death threats, government interference and, even worse, media/publisher ostracism. My dear friend Joyce Spizer Foy and Claude Rogers wrote THE CROSS-COUNTRY KILLER about serial killer Glen Rogers, Jr–Claude’s brother. I won’t go into the eye-opening experiences Joyce had in writing and promoting this book that she calls “a blueprint for how to raise a serial killer”.  Joyce and Claude didn’t pull any punches, but many people, faced with a controversial subject, may water down the book or shrink from revealing details that would ruffle feathers. The ghostwriter may be forced to fill pages with regurgitated facts, unless the contract and the personal rapport (and the publisher and/or agent, if applicable) allow the ghostwriter to push for more flexibility.
  3. The subject or the subject’s representatives won’t tell certain facts, or try to impose their own ideas about a book, which may not always be interesting to write, let alone read, and therefore may not be marketable. I’m aware that some poorly written and ho-hum books  have been marketed and sold to publishers and the public because of successful promotion and a sexy subject. However, as ghostwriters and clients we want to aim above that. Right?
  4. The people bankrolling the project or producing/publishing the project have their own agendas, and by the time they’re through designing a horse by committee, the writers are completely burned out and just want to move on to the next gig (or do their own writing on a tropical beach with no cell phones). This is why so many movies start out with a dream cast and a great story and end up boring you to death and/or being panned by the critics (these are not always connected).

I’m not saying that the above apply to the process of writing the new Buffett book.  The BARRON’S article simply struck a chord in me. I hope it’s of some help to my fellow ghostwriters and their current and prospective clients.

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...

Why quality counts

We were approached by a potential client with the following proposition:

Over the past couple of weeks I have been talking to a lot of writers from different parts of the world. But none of them have been able to provide what I need.  What I need are very unique, highly informative, gripping article. I had some individuals and companies write for me some sample articles.

They wrote articles on subjects like “What is Outsourcing”, What is Inbound Call Center” etc. Everyone knows all this.

I need a more researched article which focuses following issues:

- Some unique facts about the Call Center / Customer Relationship management industry

- Some interesting stories / incidents of this industry

- Some eye-opening problems solving approach specific to this industry.

That’s why we are here.  We can work with you to develop a marketing plan and then write the articles that fit into the plan.   Articles that just repeat drivel are pretty useless.  Even if the same information can be found in many other places, the article has to be written like the information is unique, like it is the first time anyone has thought of it….like “What color is outsourcing?” or “When the call center phone rings…”

GD Star Rating
loading...
GD Star Rating
loading...