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Home > Publications > Quill > Guidelines on Anonymous Sources



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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Guidelines on Anonymous Sources

Compiled by Abe Aamidor

Note: Read the full Quill story, "Says Who?" on anonymous sources here.

Excerpts from policy statements and/or guidelines on anonymity

The Associated Press

(excerpted from AP News Values & Principles):

Under AP's rules, material from anonymous sources may be used only if:

The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report.

The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the
source.

The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.

Reporters who intend to use material from anonymous sources must get approval from their news manager before sending the story to the desk.

Reuters

(excerpted from Reuters Editors blog):

Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information the y provide, even though we remain liable for accuracy, balance and legal dangers. Press your sources to go on the record.

Reuters will use unnamed sources where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record. We alone are responsible for the accuracy of such information.

USA Today on "Unnamed sources"

(excerpted from Guidelines for Using Unnamed Sources:

Anonymous sources may only be used to report facts. ... Extreme care should be taken not to identify unnamed sources in a way that exposes their identity. But unnamed sources should be described as precisely as possible.

SPJ

(excerpted from the SPJ Code of Ethics.)

Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability. Always question sources' motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchangefor information. Keep promises.

Also see the SPJ Ethics Committee position paper on anonymous sources: spj.org/ethics-papers-anonymity.asp

Radio and Television Digital News Association

(excerpted from Guidelines for Using Confidential Sources):

A story that uses confidential sources should be of overwhelming public concern.... Even if the source cannot be named, the information must be proven true.... What legal obligations do you incur by promising not to reveal this source's name? If you are sued, are you willing to go to jail to protect this source?

NPR Ethics Handbook

(available here):

Unidentified sources should rarely be heard at all and should never be heard attacking or praising others in our reports (with the possible rare exceptions of whistleblowers and individuals making allegations of sexual assault).

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