I shall start with a small story.
I was writing a transfer line involving Newcastle United five years ago. I forget the player but that's not the point here as he didn't end up signing. The sources included two journalists at a paper that shall remain nameless. They gave me the tip-off as their paper did not want to run the story. They gave it to me, I ran it.
The story was published - it was a simple 'NEWCASTLE UNITED ARE POISED TO MAKE A MOVE FOR ....' sort of thing. No harm in that, right? Wrong. I got a call from Newcastle saying the manager was furious about this being leaked because it apparently jeopardised their move for the player. Which is bollocks.
It soon transpired that the player did not actually fancy a move to Newcastle but his agent was using a Premier League team to get his 'name' out there. Newcastle wanted him, but he didn't want them. My sources had been duped. I had been duped. This is when sources go wrong.
Now, in this age of Twitter, if someone was to say that Newcastle were going for a certain player and it didn't come off, then the knives would be out for the poster and they'd be labelled a liar.
In reality, they had honestly been duped. They had been fed a line from two sources (in this case, the two journalists) who in turn had been used by an agent to get a player's name out in the media and get some interest in him.
BULLSHIT JOURNO! ALWAYS SELLING PAPERS! Is the cry. This is not the case and one of the most angering things of journalism.
As a football reporter, you are told by your editor to come up with, on average, around 5 original ideas a week (usually at the editorial meeting on a Monday). The pressure to get a story is intense. It's horrific, to tell the truth.
I was given that line as an idea to put up to the editor and he liked it, as it was exclusive and nobody else had it. We thought it was true, but it turned out that although Newcastle were keen on the player (which was later confirmed by the club) the player did not want to move there and as a result, the move didn't happen.
Is this lying? No. It's being a journalist and reporting what you're told. I had the voice recording of the agent I spoke to confirming the player wanted to join them and I had two journalists' emails verifying they are aware of the story.
So, in this brief lesson about when sources go wrong, remember this:
Football writers do not go out to lie, they go out to report things they hear. Never has the message 'don't shoot the messenger' been so apt. Even when things don't work out the way you hoped, it's not because you've plucked a name from nowhere and written a story.
Because trust me, if you did that, you'd soon get found out. Editors keep a track of the stories their writers post and if none come off, you'd soon be out the door with a wife to buy shoes for, a mortgage to sort and two screaming kids to buy food for.