Rowan Williams stepping down soon? A quick look at a possible scoop


Jonathan Wynne-Jones’ story on Rowan Williams’ future plans is careening around the internet. It begins as so:

Dr Rowan Williams is understood to have told friends he is ready to quit the highest office in the Church of England to pursue a life in academia.

The story is extremely thinly sourced. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t plausible. As we have no particular information on its plausibility, we’d like to take a look at the sourcing, which is clearly anonymous and seems to be third-hand.

Have a look at that lead again. It doesn’t attribute the information to Williams’ friends. Rather, it says that it is “understood” that these friends are in possession of this information. How the information came to be understood is deliberately obscure. This suggest that the information is third hand.

Then there is this:

Lambeth Palace would not be drawn into confirming or denying whether the archbishop will be leaving next year.

The phrase “next year” certainly adds urgency to the story, but it is introduced not by a source, but by the Telegraph in a question to Lambeth Palace. This is a reporter reporting on what the reporter has said.

Wynne-Jones is basically asking us to take this story on trust. As someone who has watched him work his sources, I can’t dismiss the possibility that he has a major scoop here. But, were I his editor, I’d be uncomfortable with the verbal maneuvering my paper had engaged in to hide the fact that we weren’t really leveling with our readers on where our information came from, and hence giving them no opportunity to weigh its veracity for themselves.

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4 Responses to "Rowan Williams stepping down soon? A quick look at a possible scoop"
  1. Well, this rumor has had strong circulation for several months now. This, along with the rumor that the Anglican Covenant is in deep trouble and probably won't pass most of the Synods in most of the Provinces - not without serious revision to Section IV. But, since we've been told this is the "final draft" there can be no revision. What to do when one paints oneself into a corner? Well, resignation is one option.

    If nothing else, this little article may well force Rowan's hand.

    It will be interesting to see what develops. I'm going with 'where-there's-smoke-there's-fire' but trying not to get my hopes up too high.

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  2. Having bunged up the job about as badly as could be done, he is now going to quit before seeing it through? Should he not wait at least until hensees the reception of the Covenant worldwide? Or is this perhaps a ploy to get people saying "Oh we best pass it so we don't hurt his feelings."

    Perhaps we should be ready to send TEC missionaries to England should the next ++ABC be anti-women.

    Now that this story is out, he is a Lame Primate.

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  3. I just love it when you get all smart and journalistic, Jim.

    We shall see what we shall see ... but for the moment I'm considering the source.

    Susan Russell

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  4. The story seems not to have substantially evolved at this point, with Williams related news sources pointing more towards Zimbabwe, and all new stories about impending retirement relying on the original, fuzzy reportage.

    This would be a good time for someone who doesn't have to speak on terms of anonymity to step up and clarify.

    Torey Lightcap

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