In today's Policy Corner we look at the rules and philosophy regarding the use of anonymous sources

  • Jim Baumann

    Jim Baumann

Posted1/6/2020 1:00 AM

When you hear or see President Donald Trump attack the news media with claims of made-up sources, he puts newspaper editors at a disadvantage to prove him wrong.

You see a great deal of anonymously sourced stories in national papers such as The New York Times and Washington Post these days. They're doing so more consistently today -- under this president -- than I remember seeing.


That's not necessarily a bad thing. Many stories simply could not be reported unless those who have intimate knowledge of the goings-on in the White House are granted some level of anonymity.

President Donald Trump does not look kindly upon those who are disloyal to him, so there is a real fear of reprisal.

The use of anonymous sources is not a license to make things up. Editors at the Daily Herald must run the potential use of anonymous material up the flagpole, and it must meet my standards.

News outfits that use anonymous sources appropriately also provide some context to show you the person providing information is in a position to know something. Good news outlets make a concerted effort to substantiate what is being said.

At the Daily Herald, we adhere to principles laid out in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

Here are some relevant tenets:

• Consider sources' motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere.

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• Explain why anonymity was granted.

The use of anonymous sources should always be a last resort. The more transparent we are about who is providing information, the greater trust you have in our work.

Jim Baumann is Daily Herald managing editor.

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