GUIDELINES FOR USING UNNAMED SOURCES
The excessive use of unnamed sources poses a challenge to media credibility and at SIGNAL we make extra efforts to ascertain the veracity of our sources, even when unnamed. When there is no other way to obtain information that is crucial to the reader’s understanding of the story, these guidelines apply:
- The identity of an unnamed source must be shared with and approved by the Editor prior to publication. The Editor must be confident that the information presented to the reader is accurate, not just that someone said it. This usually will require confirmation from a second source or from documents. When a single confidential source is cited without further support in the story, the Editor must be confident that information presented is based on first-hand knowledge and is authoritative.
- The same principles apply to the use of confidential documents. It is not enough to know and sign off on the identity of the source of the documents. The Editor must be satisfied that the documents are authentic and trustworthy and the chain of custody of the documents can be traced to their originators.
- Anonymous sources must be cited only as a last resort. This applies not just to direct quotes but to the use of anonymous sources generally. Before accepting their use for publication, the Editor must be confident that there is no better way to present the information and that the information is important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust. This is not to be taken lightly.
- Anonymous sources may only be used to report facts. Anonymous accusations and speculation are not acceptable.
- Sources should understand that if information is attributed to them anonymously in the newspaper, the Editor will know their identity. They should also understand they may be identified if their information proves to be false or unfounded.
- Reporters may not enter into agreements with sources that specify when information will be used in SIGNAL or under what circumstances without the direct participation of an editorial staff. This includes committing to a specific publication date, location in the site or any other understanding that limits SIGNAL’S independent news judgment.
- 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. Additionally, reporters and editors should explain why the source could not be identified and if possible, add any information that establishes the credibility of a source on the subject matter in question.
- The number of sources or their standing must never be exaggerated.
- Sources should be pushed to accept the lowest possible level of confidentiality. The agreed-upon level of confidentiality should be understood by both parties.
- Sources cited in wire reports or by other media should be used only when absolutely necessary. When using sources from another media, they should be attributed to the appropriate organization, citing its description of the source.