And that brings up this point: Where are these anecdotes coming from? “All I did was sign up [on HealthCare.gov] and tweet about it,” Sullivan told Reuters, and two weeks ago he “got to meet with (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius.” The Sullivan success story has been touted by Enroll America, a public-private group dedicated to enrolling people in state exchanges and founded by Ron Pollack who heads Families USA, one of Obamacare’s chief chearleaders. It looks like Sullivan’s cheap bronze plan, as described by Enroll America, may not give him much coverage—something that should have been investigated by Reuters. The White House, as Reuters noted, has asked Americans to share their Obamacare success stories on its WhiteHouse.gov website, while the Senate Republican Conference has solicited what Reuters called “horror stories” at a new website republican.senate.gov/YourStory. Voila: ready-made anecdotes from both sides for harried reporters on deadline to drop into the opening sentences of their stories, which editors have told them to humanize, humanize, humanize.

It seems reporters have two choices: either report out these tales to see if they hold up, or go out and find (and check out) their own anecdotes. The latter usually makes for better journalism—advice that bears repeating in this era of cherrypicked storytelling.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.