Using Unnamed Sources  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   December 1994

Using Unnamed Sources   

The cincinnati enquirer's policy on using anonymous sources

By Lawrence Beaupre
     

Related reading:
   » Offside on O.J.
   » Anonymous Sources
   » "On Deep Background"

The cincinnati enquirer's policy on using anonymous sources, written by Editor Lawrence Beaupre:

  • The identities of all sources must be verified and confidentially disclosed to the editor and, if requested, to the newspaper's attorney.
  • Misleading information about the true identity of a source may not be used in a story, even to "throw off" suspicion.
  • Information supplied by an unnamed source should be verified independently or confirmed by at least one other source. An exception may be made (albeit with risk) for individuals who are the sole possessors of the information or whose integrity is unassailable....
  • The motive of the anonymous source should be fully examined to prevent our being used unwittingly to grind someone's ax.
  • We should avoid using anonymous sources on information that calls someone's judgment into question or on statements that are a matter of opinion. For example, it would be wrong to quote an anonymous source saying someone is "dumb."... If someone wants to take a jab at someone else, he should be compelled to put his name behind it.
  • Information attributed to an anonymous source must be factual and important to the story. Peripheral information or "just a good quote" aren't good enough reasons for anonymity.
  • As with on-the-record sources, the Rule of the Best Source should prevail. Reporters and editors should satisfy themselves that the source is appropriate to provide the information sought and that he or she is in a position to know.
  • When an unnamed source must be used, the story should explain why his or her identity is being withheld, and enough information should be given about the source to establish his or her authority to speak on the subject.
  • Stories containing unnamed sources may not be published without the approval of the editor or a managing editor. Generally, I want to be consulted.
  • We should not quote people whose identities we do not know or cannot verify.

###