Whither The Sources?

We already know the recession sucks for journalists because—to generalize slightly—they have been laid off. But it sucks for working journalists, too. Guess who else got laid off: all their sources!

Imagine, if you will, that you're a business reporter. You spent years schmoozing and hobnobbing and shoulder-rubbing and other body part-caressing to build up all these sources inside massive Wall Street firms that will, officially, give you only robotic press releases. The entire enterprise of quality business reporting—particularly in the finance sector, which is a pretty fucking newsworthy sector at the moment—is built upon having a list of company insiders willing to speak to you on background to tell you what's really going on.

Who are these mysterious sources? Disgruntled people, often! People who hate their jobs, or their bosses, or are trying to stab their superiors in the back in order to ascend into their positions—these are the people who make all those Wall Street Journal fly-on-the-wall of the boardroom stories possible. Yes, there are friendly PR people who'll let actual facts slip on background, and various execs who will tell the truth if their name's not attached, but for the most part, a good source is one with a reason to enjoy seeing someone in their firm have their ass nailed to the wall in the print.

Now imagine: it's layoff time! They guys at the top decide who goes. That means those they don't like get pushed out in favor of those who kiss their asses. That means that the more likely someone is to be a good source, the more likely they are to get laid off. Simplistic but true. And already, reporters who cover Wall Street are finding that their best leakers are now pursuing new careers as personal trainers, just when we need them the most.

Wall Street executives: please retain the people who hate you, for the public good.