Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sources Are Reporting

Anonymous sourcesContinuing to follow this possible acquisition-slash-settlement story involving PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Yesterday afternoon, Wicked Chops Poker published a brief post titled “Confirmed: PokerStars Acquires Full Tilt Poker.” The post looks like it might have been hastily written (“We’ve been working various sources...”), and doesn’t offer too much beyond the declaration in the headline. The “scoop” here is that having spoken to unidentified people in the know, “the deal is in fact done.” Also confirmed is that $750 million purchase price we saw ChiliPoker CEO Alex Dreyfus tweeting a couple of days back.

The use of anonymous sources is common, of course. Some news organizations defend them as utterly necessary, while others resist using anonymous sources, adopting a code of ethics that forbids their use.

In poker we encounter it a lot, most often because of the myriad conflicts of interest that exist in the poker industry, including those involving poker media. Indeed, just yesterday I was referring to two different articles in which anonymous sources were used.

One was the article in The Wall Street Journal by Alexandra Berzon in which she spoke to “a person familiar with the matter” who confirmed the rumor that Stars was indeed pursuing the purchase. The other was by Diamond Flush in which she, too, shared information provided to her by unnamed sources regarding Groupe Bernard Tapie’s hare-brained scheme to “repay or otherwise make whole” ROW players’ accounts on FTP. (Heck, in the latter case, even the writer is anonymous.)

I assume in both articles that those providing information to the reporters did so on the condition that they not be identified as sources. Such was also likely the case with Wicked Chops’ “various sources,” although sometimes reporters will make such decisions for other reasons than the sources’ own desire for confidentiality.

Consequently, we readers are invited to decide for ourselves how much we trust the reporter’s judgment when relying on sources whose identities he or she cannot or will not share. Our trust is usually based on the information being conveyed and its believability (measured by its fitting with other established facts) as well as the writer’s credibility (measured by past reporting, including past uses of anonymous sources).

There’s a kind of irony here, actually. When we read something -- a news article, a blog post, a poem, a novel, whatever -- our idea of the “author” is of particular significance depending on the genre. In some cases, it matters a lot who the author is; in others, it does not. When it comes to reporting, it matters, thus when an anonymous source is being used, we tend to be skeptical, and can usually only be assuaged by our knowledge of the reporter -- in other words, the less we know about the source, the more we need to know about the one citing the source.

Just two days ago the whole Stars acquisition story “broke” with an entirely anonymous post on a poker forum. Practically no one paid the post any heed until another known poster (NoahSD) who has established some credibility confirmed that he’d spoken with others -- not named -- and was led to believe there may be something to the anonymous poster’s claim. And off we went.

This whole way of communicating information piecemeal, with wildly varying levels of corroboration and verification, is kind of fascinating, really.

With this particular story, it’s like we’re halfway through a poker hand in which we’ve been given various bits of information upon which to base our response. Some of that information is reliable and unambiguous. Some is not. So we go with our “reads” -- both literal and figurative. We read the lines as they are written. And we read between them. And then we decide what we believe.

My usual play in these spots is to be tentative and not risk too much without more concrete information. Do I believe these reporters’ claims as based on their anonymous sources? Sure. But I wouldn’t go making big bets on any of it just yet, nor would I venture to waste too much energy speculating what may come of it all.

And sure, you can quote me on that.

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Blogger Mark said...

Hey Shamus, Cool to see you keeping up the quality reporting...

My comment was inspired by your 'Down From The Shelf' pick though - Day of The Triffids is one of my all time favorites. When I retire from the poker business I'll write the b-movie-tastic sequel!


4/27/2012 10:20 AM  

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