By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Two cheers for anonymous sources

Yes, anonymous quotes should be used sparingly. But in my latest for the Guardian, I argue that they are just like anything else in the journalist’s toolbox — a help to readers when used properly, a bane when abused.

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  1. LFNeilson

    It’s a tough issue, but I believe that granting anonymity to sources can bring out information that might not otherwise be revealed. If identifying the source would cost that employee his or her job, then I would go along with screening the identity. Once they’re fired, you probably can’t go back.

  2. All well and good, but hardly fair, for Dan Gillmor, twittering from the cocoon of the non-profit universe, to question the courage of belabored staff reporters unwilling to go on record criticizing their real-world bosses while the industry crashes around them. Having once been among them, he ought to be a tad more tolerant of the human frailty of his former fellow wage-slaves.

    I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t even allude to the mitigating factor of corroberation. Sometimes a little (or a lot) more digging can produce same (pace deadlines). Absent, however, at least one other credible on-the-record source to echo the allegation, I wouldn’t use it; but that seems to me an editor’s decision, not a reporter’s.

  3. At the risk of wearing out my welcome, I’ll chime in just once more with this quote from an article about Goldman Sachs I’ve just read in today’s New York Times:

    “Interviews with [emphasis mine] current and former Goldman partners paint a portrait of a bank driven by hard-charging traders like Mr. Blankfein, who wager vast sums in world markets in hopes of quick profits. Discreet bankers who give advice to corporate clients and help them raise capital — once a major source of earnings for Goldman — have been eclipsed, .”[emphasis again mine].

    The article goes on in this vein for two web pages without actually naming a single one of the sources (except one who [irony mine]).

    My point being that if you have 20 credible people making essentially the same allegation, albeit anonymously, that, it seems to me, is adequate corroboration.

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