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Archive for August 20th, 2009

Abuse of anonymous sources still bane of big-time journalism

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The phrase “spoke on condition of anonymity” has appeared in about 160 Washington Post stories this year, says Post ombud Andy Alexander. Since Jan. 1, The New York Times has used the phrase 240 times, says its public editor.

The Post knows better, Mr. Alexander writes:

The Post has strict rules on the use of anonymous sources. They’re spelled out in detail — more than 3,000 words — in its internal stylebook. But some of those lofty standards are routinely ignored. Others are unevenly applied.

Anonymous sources have their place in news gathering. Whistleblowers who make charges of malfeasance against governments or corporations need protection against reprisal. Victims of sexual assault similarly have been granted anonymity to protect against reprisal or demonizing. Sources in crucial national security stories may need protection. Sometimes, the grant of anonymity is the only way to obtain information that will serve the public interest.

“Anonymous sources are critical to newsgathering — and to informing readers,” writes Mr. Anderson. “Without a guarantee of confidentiality, many sources wouldn’t share sensitive information on corruption or misconduct.”

But far too many journalists and their editors use anonymous sources routinely without more critical assessment of the consequences. So should such journalists be surprised at the erosion of their credibility?
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 20, 2009 at 10:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized