Attribution, attribution, attribution
An essential part of journalism is saying how or from whom we know what we know — in other words, attribution. This means that the source for every fact or assertion must be clear to the audience. This doesn’t mean reporters have to tell “who says” in every sentence. But it’s vital to establish the source for a set of facts in a way that is clear and unambiguous.
WRONG: This week, Darryl Hopkins told the story from his point of view. Clark Rockefeller told him the person hanging on to the vehicle was a “gay friend” that he wanted to lose.
RIGHT: This week, Darryl Hopkins told WBZ-TV the story from his point of view. He said Clark Rockefeller told him the person hanging on to the vehicle was a “gay friend” that he wanted to lose.
The differences between the versions of this (randomly selected) paragraph seem minor at first glance — just a few words. But they convey very important information that gives credit where it’s due (to WBZ, in this case) and more importantly, helps the audience judge the credibility of the assertions. How do we know what Clark Rockefeller allegedly told Darryl Hopkins? Because Hopkins said so. The audience can then judge the claim on the basis of whether it thinks Hopkins is credible, a publicity hound, a guy trying save his own neck, or whatever.
So when in doubt, attribute, attribute, attribute. There should be at least one source attribution per story (more if you used more), and one for each controversial assertion in the story (i.e. every statement in the script that someone might quarrel with). Generally speaking, the place to put your source attribution is early on in the script, connected to a controversial assertion, or at least with some newsy, up-to-date fact that you got from the source.