Thursday, April 2, 2009

Anonymous Sources

This is a few days old, but worth bringing to the attention of anyone who might see it.

The New York Times's ombudsman has taken the paper to task for its use of anonymous sources.

This is something every news reader should be aware of; unattributed comments get used so frequently that readers may not even realize that the decision to use one carries serious ethical implications.

If you saw the last season of "The Wire," or you heard about the Times's experience with disgraced reported Jayson Blair, you know that unattributed comments can be used by unscrupulous reporters to fabricate quotes.

And a star-struck David Brooks recently provided us an example of when a speaker's identity can be a major fact withheld from readers for no good reason; not wanting to spoil a friendly chat with a request for attributable quotes, Brooks quoted Barack Obama anonymously.

Hopefully, this column will lead to change in newsrooms elsewhere, although the quality of journalism is probably not the highest concern in the newspaper business right now.

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