The Daily Star — Labor Day usually augurs barbecues, kids going back to school and the last throes of summer. This year, it may also mean the dawning of a new chapter in New York state: the Frack Era.
In early August, Fred LeBrun of the Albany Times-Union warned that “For those desperately hoping against hope that high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas will be blocked from coming into New York state, sorry. For you, the end of the world arrives before Labor Day.”
On Sunday, CBS News’ Jeff Glor made a similar assertion, writing that that “New York is close to making a decision about fracking and is expected to roll out guidelines after Labor Day.”
Both these statements — and the cascade of reponses that flickered across the Internet — have sent pro- and anti-drilling folks alike into a tizzy.
Neither cites a source as to what led them to believe that Labor Day is the magical date.
LeBrun should get a pass here, because his writing was commentary, not news reporting, meaning his statement could be interpreted as one of opinion, rather than fact. But Glor’s unattributed assertion should be subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny as any news reporting.
This didn’t stop news outlets such as the Huffington Post and New York Magazine from echoing Glor’s statement. (It also didn’t stop this newspaper from hearing what local activists thought about the idea. But The Daily Star’s story made clear the nature of the CBS story and its shadowy sources.)
We’re not suggesting that LeBrun and Glor are wrong. They’re probably right. We’ll probably get a big announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo or someone at the state Department of Environmental Conservation within the next week or so.
But that doesn’t let them off the hook.
The Associated Press sets very clear guidelines about the use of anonymous sources, requiring that reporters “explain in the story why the source requested anonymity (and) describe the source’s motive for disclosing the information. If the story hinges on documents ... the reporter must describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible. ... The story also must provide attribution that establishes the source’s credibility; simply quoting ‘a source’ is not allowed. We should be as descriptive as possible.”
Had Glor’s report for CBS been held to this standard, the news that followed it could have been much more well-informed — which, in turn, would lead to a more well-informed public. And isn’t that the goal of journalism in the first place?