One Paper's Policy  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   August/September 2003

One Paper's Policy   

By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor     

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Here's an example of a newspaper's policy regarding the use of anonymous sources. From the Orlando Sentinel:

The use of anonymous sources should be avoided because it undermines the newspaper's credibility. Those readers who are suspicious of what we have to report have greater reason to distrust information when we can't tell them where we got it. Writers should make every effort to get information on the record--that is, with the source willing to be quoted by name. The use of anonymous sources is considered legitimate in some cases. But they ought to be used sparingly, and not just because someone "asked to remain anonymous." To determine which cases are legitimate, the following four-part test should be applied in each instance:

Is the information being attributed to the anonymous source NECESSARY to the article?

Can the information be had ON THE RECORD from any other source? Does the anonymous source have a LEGITIMATE REASON for remaining unidentified?

Can we EXPLAIN that reason in the article?

The required responses should be yes, no, yes and yes. We need to explain in the article--unless it is patently obvious from the context--why the source can't be identified.

Whenever possible, use a term other than source to describe people providing us with information. It's too cloak-and-dagger. Partial identification should be included whenever possible; it allows the reporter to circumvent source and lends more credence to the information being reported. For instance, a high level EPA official said, a congressional aide said, a department official said, even persons familiar with the negotiations said are better than the source said or sources said....

No reporter can promise a source absolute confidentiality because at least one editor will need to know the source's identity before the newspaper will publish information provided by an anonymous source. Cases where confidentiality means a reporter's possibly going to jail to protect a source require the prior approval of the managing editor or editor.

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