Madison rocked gently in her chair as she watched Mr. Portnoy read over the first draft of her story. She watched his face for any sign of what he thought, but she wasn’t able to draw any conclusions. He looked up at her, smiled, and said, “Septuagenarians,” then he continued reading.
He placed the papers on his desk and took off his reading glasses. “Hmm,” he said.
“Hmm?” Madison repeated.
“How well-sourced is this story, Madison?” he asked.
“I don’t know what that means,” she replied.
“I mean, do you have independent confirmation on all the allegations? Do you have at least two sources that say SDI launched nuclear weapons into space? Do you have at least two sources that say that company…” The teacher put on his glasses and scanned the paper. “That CLP has that many warehouses? And all that stuff you mentioned about what’s in there, and how they plan to distribute it… the stuff about smuggling. How many sources do you have on all that?”
“No, I don’t have two sources for any of that,” she said. “I have one source, a retired head of NASA, who gave me the SDI information. The rest of the stuff I got through internet research, overhearing conversations, and as you saw, I did manage to interview Mr. Black a couple times.”
Mr. Portnoy leaned back in his chair and put the tip of his glasses in the corner of his mouth. “I’m going to be frank with you, Madison,” he said. “This sounds like a conspiracy theory, not a real news story. I’m not saying you made things up. But I think you may be believing people who are not telling you the truth.”
Madison scowled but said nothing.
“I mean, think about it,” he continued. “If all of this were true, how could it remain a secret? There would be too many people involved. Something would have leaked out.”
“Mr. P.,” she countered, “I have the story because it leaked out. That’s the whole point. Big conspiracies get exposed because some reporter gets a little scrap of something that doesn’t smell right, and we chase down the leads and figure out the truth. I stand one hundred percent behind my reporting.”
“I get that,” he said. “But with allegations like this, the standard is two sources. Ideally, two sources with no connection to each other. Two independent sources.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Madison said. “I can look, but that’s going to take some time. The disaster is going to happen in as soon as four or five weeks.”
The teacher sighed. “Only if your source is right. But if he isn’t, this could cause a panic for no reason. Journalistic standards exist for a reason.”
“Yeah. Okay. You’re right, of course,” Madison said. “I’ll see what I can find.”
“The writing is really good, though,” he said. “Very factual, with just enough color to keep it moving.”
Madison smiled. “Thank you. So let’s assume I get more sources to confirm this. Then what do we do with it? Publishing it in the school paper seems kind of pointless.”
“I still have a lot of contacts up in Chicago, where I used to work. We could hand off the story to them. They’d assign a reporter to confirm your sources, since they don’t trust you like I do. They’d probably rewrite it considerably, but I’m sure your name would stay attached to it.”
Madison could feel herself sneering at that idea, though she didn’t have the ability to stop. “I don’t like that.”
Her teacher laughed. “I wouldn’t either, if I were in your shoes. We could run it in the school paper. Then I send the school paper to news outlets, and the story becomes ‘student uncovers conspiracy.’ In essence, you become the story, but your underlying reporting also comes along for the ride.”
Madison wobbled her head side to side. “That doesn’t sound horrible.”
“Well, it’s all academic right now anyway. You need to find those sources,” he said.
“Okay. Thanks, Mr. P. I’m disappointed, but I understand. I’ll get on it.”