Tim Bousquet’s rules for using anonymous sources:
- The information gained through granting anonymity is not otherwise available. Or, put another way, granting anonymity is not a shortcut to doing the hard work of gathering solid information and good reporting.
- The anonymous source must have something to lose, should anonymity not be given: loss of a job, etc.
- Using an anonymous source must result in some positive public good. “Spinning” someone’s view is not a positive public good.
When I was a reporter at a daily in the states, I had a publisher who wouldn’t allow me to use anonymous sources at all. At the time, I felt that policy unduly constrained me, but I soon discovered it made me a better reporter: I couldn’t just put any old shit out there, I had to document everything, peg every assertion to a named source or document, etc. Mostly, as anonymity is used today by much of the press, it’s an excuse for lazy reporting.
Contrarian reader Stan Jones also weighs in on Ibbitson’s practice of letting Harper operatives issue dubious and partisan talking points without identifying themselves:
I have always thought Ibbitson’s main role was to transcribe whatever was the day’s conservative talking point into grammatical English. So I never read him, preferring to go directly to the source for my daily dose of nonsense.