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Quoting anonymous sources

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Sunday October 17, 2010 )

You have a scoop and the source is trustworthy. The problem is he/she doesn’t want to be identified. You’re itching to post a blog or article – how do you handle it?

It’s a sensitive area – you could say something like “according to an anonymous source”; but that probably won’t stir up much confidence in your readership as the anonymous source could be the wino who sits outside the building of the company/organization involved, or worse still, readers might just think you made it up – as that’s not an uncommon thing to happen.

Something like “according to a source involved in negotiations” could put your source in danger – if there’s only two people negotiating. Anything that helps to identify the source might see that person in trouble and you cut off from a font of information in the future.

While blogging etc. are still a reasonably new phenomenon, we can look towards how “old world” media organizations have handled these issues for decades.

A handy guide to this specific topic is available from The Guardian.

If you’re interested in learning more about general journalism ethics and standards, there’s a page on Wikipedia with some excellent information, along with a bunch of additional resources.

This I found particularly interesting – it’s a quote from the Society of Professional Journalists preamble to its Code of Ethics states:

“The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”

And this is why most bloggers shouldn’t call themselves journalists. In fact, many “real” journalists don’t observe this either these days.


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