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Journalism 101: Who's a Source?

Thursday, October 5, 2006

In response to the debate National Geographic magazine has recently sparked with its October 2006 article, "The Pollution Within," Environmental Working Group invites journalism students, working journalists and National Geographic in particular to address questions of whether information sources who espouse policy views should be cited in stories.

First, the general question. If a source is known to have a perspective (or an "agenda" or a "slant") or is openly known as an advocacy group, is it acceptable to cite them? If not, is it OK to cite an industry-funded lobbying group? What's the difference? Should one, both or neither be cited?

Second, to National Geographic editors: We appreciate that you apologized for not citing our contribution to your story. However, the claim that we shouldn't be cited because we're an advocacy group doesn't hold water when in the same story you quote the American Chemistry Council, a group whose goal is to increase the profits of chemical companies. How will this incident affect your editorial policies going forward?

We're asking you this publicly because we believe transparency benefits everyone, and because we haven't yet heard back from you about when we could meet to discuss these editorial issues in private. Victoria Pope of your magazine promised Lauren Sucher of EWG that on September 28 she'd have information about Chris Johns's (the magazine editor) schedule. We haven't heard from Ms. Pope yet, so perhaps it's more convenient for all parties to communicate via Enviroblog.

We're happy to host the discussion and look forward to comments.

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