Andrew Brown’s right: it’s only when you read the PDF compiled by Adam Penenberg (38K) that the full import of Michelle Delio’s, um, extravagant writing style becomes apparent. There’s this long list of stories with unsourceable sources who can’t be traced (welcome to the post-Google world of fact-checking), the way that Delio didn’t bring her laptop to a meeting with Penenberg (she said it was broken) and that when he called her over a very recent story she’d written – because she said she dumped emails from stories more than a month old – she couldn’t come up with the goods either. And Infoworld withdrew that story.
I mean, Penenberg uses “veteran” (I guess it’s a nice way of saying “over 40”) to describe Delio but let’s be realistic. Veterans don’t bin stuff. It accumulates, to the impotent fury of those who work with them, unless those they work with are fellow journalists, in which case they accumulate stuff “just in case” too.
And you keep stuff. Journalism suits accumulators. I’ve got emails (and spam) from work going back 10 years. I never threw away a notebook while at The Independent (so there’s ten years of them just waiting for that lawsuit). Making up quotes was always tempting; I once went out with a woman who by dint of concerted effort got a job on the Sun’s features desk, only to find that the typical situation was a demand at 4.30pm for 1000 words on a subject plucked from air thinner than that at Everest’s summit, and to make sure it had at least three people quoted in it. “I mean, how do they expect us to find people for those?” she demanded querulously. “Of course I made them up.”
But nope, I never succumbed. Maybe that says something about the Indie’s culture, that one wouldn’t get bollocked for not doing the truly impossible. It’s a hard task for a newsdesk to decide, though, whether someone’s a fantastic reporter, or just a fantastic liar. That of course was the challenge with the Jason Blair stuff at the New York Times.
Still, nice to know that Wired is keeping its head about it. Its note to the episode (Delio is, or was, a regular contributor) says:
Wired News has published more than 700 news stories written by Delio (under the names Michelle Delio and Michelle Finley) since 2000. In April, we assigned journalism professor and Wired News columnist Adam Penenberg to review recent articles written by Delio for Wired News.
“Meet the Nigerian E-Mail Grifters” This article is based completely on sources whom Penenberg was unable to identify.
..Wired News is not retracting any of these stories. Rather, we are appending notes to the stories, indicating what we have been unable to confirm about them and editing them, as noted, where appropriate. By keeping these stories posted and clearly marked, we hope that our readers can help identify any sources whom we cannot track down.
The kicker though is this one.
In addition, Wired News will now require freelance reporters to submit contact information for all named sources. Also, anonymous sources will be used only with appropriate justification.
Not that the British press can afford to be snooty. I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Roy Greenslade in his repeated attacks on the tabloid press over Maxine Carr (registration required). (Not surprised because I ever had a different opinion about Carr; surprised that Greenslade’s got a sensible one.) She is vilified far beyond what her crime deserved. (Remember: she lied about her whereabouts; but she didn’t aid, abet, encourage or in any other way have any involvement with the Soham murders. All she did, in effect, was delay the discovery of what had happened.) The tabloids are pursuing her, and using stories that aren’t true to continue it because they can’t get at Ian Huntley, who did perpetrate the crimes. Beside that, Delio’s departure from the middle lane of journalism is trivial. Unfortunately, the blogosphere will concentrate on what Delio did, rather than on what goes on every day and is read by millions of people and taken as fact.