Facebook Twitter

The double-edged sword of source citing

Whether it’s news about Donovan Mitchell’s future, Big 12 revelations or the Pac-12’s situation, one thing is certain: Sources are talking

SHARE The double-edged sword of source citing
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell leaves the floor after Game 6 first-round playoff defeat to Dallas in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell leaves the floor after Game 6 first-round playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City. These days the question isn’t whether Mitchell is leaving the floor, but if he’s leaving the franchise.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Who are they and why are there so many?

You can’t turn to traditional or social media without someone saying something, and instead of attributing the revelation to an actual person, they toss out the words “sources say” or “per source” or “according to my source.”

Everybody wants to be “in the know” but they don’t want anyone to know who put them there. We protect our sources because they give us the freedom to say or write as if we know what’s going on, so long as we can fall back on attributing it to someone who isn’t us.

The problem is, with so many sources cited these days, no one knows who or what to believe.

TV, newspaper and radio reporters have relied on sources from the beginning. Those of us in the business have all used them. Some, through time, have proven better than others. The bad ones are typically discarded.

Sources are used in all kinds of stories, including government, business and entertainment — especially with sports. And Utah is no exception.

In the last few weeks alone, viewers, listeners and readers have been bombarded with news from sources regarding Donovan Mitchell’s future with the Jazz, Utah’s future with the Pac-12 and the Big 12’s future with expansion.

So many voices, so many opinions, so many sources — and that’s with traditional media. Throw in the myriad of social media posts and tweets from unnamed or unaccountable users and the fan is left with an ocean of information, or at least ideas, that are packaged as legitimate reports — backboned by an unnamed source.

As a consumer of information, other colleagues, citing their sources, have told me that Mitchell is getting traded to the Knicks, while at the same time, others, citing their sources, tell me he is not.

On one hand, a broadcaster, using his sources, has told me that Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah are all meeting to prepare admittance slips to the Big 12. Exciting News! But wait! On another station, a broadcaster is claiming the Utes have no interest in the Big 12 because they think the Big Ten will come calling.

The Big Ten? Where did that come from? Oh, that’s right, it came from an unnamed source who must be really connected because no one else in the country is talking about that.

Sources say the Big 12 wants to expand to 16 teams, while other sources say they want to go as high as 20 and deliver a fatal blow to the Pac-12. All we really know is that new commissioner Brett Yormark said on the record, on camera, “the Big 12 is open for business.”

What does that mean? No one knows, except for the sources who eagerly pass along ideas that run as wild as a wildfire in southern Utah.

What makes all of this so enticing is all of the options are possible, with the exception of Utah to the Big Ten — that just seems like too big of a stretch. However, every other scenario could be in the works.

Mitchell could be getting traded. The Big 12 might expand to 16 schools, and the Pac-12 might be on the brink of extinction — and every broadcaster, writer and tweeter is holding out hope that they get to be the one to offer the most coveted phrase in today’s fight for supremacy — I told you so!

Working with sources isn’t easy. Sometimes even the good ones turn out to be wrong. For those who care about their credibility, playing the source game is a double-edged sword. With just the right intriguing tip, he or she can incite an audience for days on information from a source. However, when that source proves to be wrong, in the legitimate world of sports journalism, there is a price to pay.

We all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf, yet so many of us in the media cry wolf all of the time.

It hurts to be wrong. That’s why, when it happens, so many of us brush it all off and blame it on the unnamed source and without hesitation, we turn around and cite another source about something else.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you have to face the music — even when it isn’t your favorite band.

Years ago, as a TV anchor/reporter in Las Vegas, UNLV was searching for a new basketball coach and Rick Pitino was its top target. I had a pair of sources that couldn’t have been more involved in the process.

They were the ones picking him up at the airport, taking him to dinner, and dropping him back off. They kept me posted on what was going on and I was reporting it, citing “sources close to the program.”

My colleagues at the other media outlets had their sources, too, but they weren’t these two. When one of them told me the hiring was all but a done deal I turned around and reported it, much to the delight of Rebel fans.

I’ll be honest. I felt pretty good about breaking the story and I felt really good about my sources of information.

However, for one reason or another, the hiring didn’t happen. Pitino went elsewhere and UNLV continued its search. Outraged, a core of Rebels dissenters, turned their angst against me. They even tagged me as “Done Deal Dave” and I think some of them still refer to me to as that.

All I did was the best that I could, and I trusted my sources, but the outcome of the story was the opposite of what I reported. Frustrated, I dug back in and worked hard to restore my credibility in the market. I’m not the first to do that, and I certainly won’t be the last. We need sources and we need credibility.

So how do you know if you can trust a media source? Sometimes you can’t. But most of the time, it is time that reveals who really knows what’s going on. We just don’t like to wait.

Someone will be right about Mitchell, the Utes and the Big 12 and an army of others will also claim they were right. I spent 30 years in the TV news business and the quest to be first on the air with something was paramount. That hasn’t changed.

A consultant once told me that it’s better to be first than it is to be right. You can always adapt your coverage to more accurate information as it comes along, but you only get one chance to be first.

I didn’t agree with him, but that didn’t keep us from doing it.

This business of being first will always require sources and the sources need people to tell their story without revealing who they are. It sure would be easier if they did, but so less interesting — and that’s what draws an audience to a radio show, a TV report or a newspaper column.

A good source can change the world. Paul Revere’s night ride through Boston was triggered by a source that the British were indeed coming. It was a source that unraveled Watergate in the early 1970s, and it will be a source that triggers the next big thing.

Boyd Matheson, arguably the most politically connected broadcaster in Utah, hosts a show on KSL NewsRadio called “Inside Sources.” He doesn’t leave himself much room for error, which also makes him accountable for what he talks about. When people listen, they know what they are getting.

At the moment, on the Utah sports scene, people also know what they are getting — a whole lot of everything. It’s an overload of ideas, suggestions, declarations, revelations, propositions, personifications, justifications — you name it, it’s out there, propagated by people who want you to believe that they are the ones who really know what’s going on.

As one twitter follower declared this week “Just trade him already!” I’m not sure if he really wants Mitchell gone or if he’s just tired of hearing all the sources that contradict each other?

Either way, like so many, he’s worn out and his only solace comes by tuning out — the irony of all ironies because citing “sources” is designed to do just the opposite.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.


Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks during Pac-12 Conference NCAA college basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in San Francisco. With news that USC and UCLA will be leaving the league, reporters are efforting stories about what the future of the conference holds.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press