News Sources and Journalist/Source Interaction

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The relationship between journalists and their sources lies at the heart of journalism practice. Journalists rely on sources to find out information and construct stories. Put simply, without sources there would be no journalism.
As the name implies, a “source” in journalism refers to a source of information from which the reporter garners material to write a story. That includes documentary sources such as written reports, social media, and data
dumps via websites such as WikiLeaks. It also includes individuals such as eyewitnesses to events, whistleblowers, civic officials, police, politicians, business leaders, community and advocacy groups, and the communications professionals who represent them. The relationship between the reporter and source is not static. It changes in response to the cultural, social, political, and economic environment. Significantly, it also changes in response to developments in communication technology. In the age of mass media, the distinction between journalist and source was relatively straightforward. At its
most basic, the source supplied the information, and the journalist filtered and verified it and then facilitated its publication to the audience via his or her news organization. However, the arrival of digital media has seen that clear distinction between reporter and source all but dissolve. Journalists are no longer the sole primary “gatekeepers” of new information. In a hybrid media system (Chadwick, 2017) where older and newer media forms coexist, intersect, and interact, anyone with access to the Internet, including politicians, companies, NGOs, and the audience can create, curate, and publish information. In doing so, relationships between actors and the hybrid system continue to evolve as the “create, tap, or steer information flows in ways that suit their goals” and in the process “modify, enable, or disable the agency of others” (Chadwick, 2017, p. 4).
As the review of literature in this article reveals, the use of these digital platforms by growing numbers of information providers is indeed modifying, enabling, and disabling journalists’ ability to perform their normative
role as democratic watchdog. On the one hand, the rise of digital media is enhancing journalism practice. On the other hand, it is undermining the economic viability of journalism and challenging journalism’s traditional
control over the flow of information to the public. In response to these changes, the dynamic between journalists and sources is in a state of flux. While the
traditional journalist-source relationship still exists, it has become an optional relationship whereby sources can either “opt-in” or “opt-out” depending on the audience they need to reach. Via discussion of key literature, this article provides an overview of the history of the reporter-source relationship in the age of mass media. It then examines the impact of the rise of digital media on journalist-source relations, followed by critical reflections on the changing nature of this pivotal relationship and future directions for research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunication
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameOxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication
PublisherOxford Univeristy Press


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