Are Journalists Using Fewer Anonymous Sources?

A story on says a new study shows journalists are relying LESS on nameless sources. The story said:

“Going into this, I really did think that I was going to find that anonymous sourcing was used more than in the past,” said Prof. Matt J. Duffy, a professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi who worked on the study with Prof. Ann E. Williams of Georgia State University.

The other key findings:

  • Nowadays journalists almost always describe anonymous sources in some way rather than simply calling them “reliable sources.” In 1958, 34 percent of stories with unnamed sources used such vague language; that dropped to under 3 percent in 2008.
  • Reporters are doing a better job of explaining why they grant anonymity. In 2008, about a quarter of stories offered some explanation. While Duffy said that’s still low, through 1998 such explanations were provided in fewer than 10 percent of stories.
  • Journalists haven’t changed their practice of independently verifying all information from anonymous sources. They do so in most cases, but not all.

Here are some guidelines that Bob Steele and I wrote about when it might be appropriate to protect a source and why you might not want to.

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