So far so good. I told you what he said, she said is, and gave you an example. CJR chimed in, and told the New York Times it could do way better, showing how. Press criticism lives! (Twitter helps.) But this does not tell us why he said, she said reporting still exists, or ever existed. To understand that we have to cut deeper into news practice, American style.
Turn the question around for a moment: what are the advantages of the newswriting formula I have derisively labeled “he said, she said?” Rather than treat it as a problem, approach it as a kind of solution to quandaries common on the reporting trail. When, for example, a screaming fight breaks out at the city council meeting and you don’t know who’s right, but you have to report it, he said, she said makes the story instantly writable. Not a problem, but a solution to the reporter’s (deadline!) problem. [..]
In its heyday he said, she said was like a stamping plant in the factory of news. It recognized that production demands trumped truthtelling requirements. But these were the production demands of a beast that is now changing. Refusing to serve as a check on Hank Greenberg’s power to distort the news when the means for a such a check are available— this too can have a cost, just as importing the knowledge to do the check has a cost. At a certain point in this dynamic, he said, she said journalism loses its utility and becomes one of the things dragging the news business down. But as the industry sheds people and newsrooms thin out, there could be greater reliance on a more and more bankrupt and trust-rotting practice. That’s a downward spiral.