After being panned for using unnamed sources, journalists seem to have switched to just replaying official communiqués from the government. Once upon a time, the stories used to rely exclusively on first hand reporting, and by that I mean talking to multiple people belonging to differing factions, visiting the place of action, and all mixed with the little wisdom gleaned from one's own "sources."
Today all that has changed, and what has been left of reporting is quotes from public statements from the government or other official or publicly authorized sources. What is even more alarming is that often the bankrupt official versions are juxtaposed with first-hand reporting to sabotage what the journalists have gleaned first hand. Of course this farce is only perpetrated when it suits the narrow political aims of the news organization or the journalist. Take for example the recent shameful reporting on the Lebanese conflict by The New York Times, which took care to always weave in an official Israeli government reaction to any news about casualties in Lebanon. The paragraphs went something like this: So many civilians died when an apartment building collapsed in a particular town. Israeli army has said that the building was being used as a Hezbollah hideout.
Whatever the truth may have been there, it should have been arrived with due care, mixed with reporting from the scene, and talking to multiple people. For what does and empty line of an official source really tell us? Why does it become part of reporting? A journalist's job is to analyze and assimilate multiple sources and piece together what really happened. It is not to quote Israeli or Hezbollah sources. Including direct quotes from official sources or including a summary of the official line uncritically in the midst of first-hand reporting amounts to perversion of the basic principles of journalism.
The sad repercussions of this kind of non-journalism were on full display in the Iraq WMD fiasco. The NY Times, a full year after that episode, came out with a report saying "mea culpa" and made assertions that it has learnt from its mistakes but the recent reporting from Lebanon shows that not much has changed at the Grand Old Lady. Of course, the New York Times, by far, is not the worst culprit of doling out official wisdom as reporting; that title of course is reserved for government lapdog, Fox News, which makes its living by distributing government propaganda with just the right amount of titillation, rancor, and graphics. On the other hand, the demise of true reporting at this touchstone of journalism is much more disturbing.