Major news organizations have relied for centuries on anonymous sources, most notably the story of the Pentagon Papers. However, many organizations are now raising the bar on the use of anonymous sources due to trouble they have caused. Bringing me to my question, is the use of anonymous sources good or bad?
Journalists believe without these sources, readers would be denied critical news. This is due to the fact that anonymous sources are often people with a high level of power and won’t provide key information unless kept anonymous. So the confidentiality helps them provide more accurate and reliable information.
In contrast, the use of unnamed sources undermines the journalist’s and their organization’s credibility. How should a reader know what’s true and what’s not true if they don’t have a way to evaluate the information? Especially, when some believe sources that are under anonymity will occasionally stretch the truth. Another reason to have a source stay on record is to protect the journalist against libel charges.
Many organizations have had to develop policies for using anonymous sources because of the benefits and dangers they posses. Major organizations have changed their policies due to recent criticism, such as: The New York Times, USA TODAY, and Newsweek.
A reader can find an institution’s view of the use of anonymous sources in their organizations guidelines. And with the witty anonymous source tracker they can also keep track of top offenders that use unnamed sources. Try it out!