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Anonymous sources, 002, 3 p.m. class

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  1. Derek Brandt
    October 4, 2009 at 10:40 am

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why?
    I think it would be appropriate to use an anonymous source if the source’s reputation stands to take a hit for stating facts. If there would be potential backlash on the source for telling the truth in an article, then it would be necissary to remain anonymous.

    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?
    The editor needs to ask what the source has to gain, or how publishing his or her comments pushes forward his or her own agenda. The editor also needs to know if the anonymous source is a reliable one, or if smoke is being blown in the editor’s direction.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column was appropriate? Why or why not?

    I think so. In the case of the Edwards story, some of the truthful information may not have been uncovered without the anonymous sources. But then again, it is hard to tell how much for the anonymous information is true, because if the information was true, why not just be up-front about it?

    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility? Tell me about it.

    Honestly, I’m not sure that I have. But I do think it is a cheap way to get information as a reporter. I know that I would be reluctant to use an anonymous source. Instead I would try to find a source who would not be reluctant to tell me the truth and go on the record. I just feel anonymous sources are a touchy subject and should be used with discretion.

  2. Alissa
    October 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Typically I would say reports should stay away from using anonymous sources. Reporters maintain credibility with readers if sources are identified. If reporters used anonymous sources on a daily basis, how would the public be able to identify which sources were legitimate, or which sources the reporter could have made up? For the average story about the senate, or new company in town, sources should want to stand behind statements because the statements are true. If a source doesn’t want to be named in a story, just find a source to replace him or her that will go on the record.

    There needs to be specific reasons for the reporter’s decision to use anonymous sources. I think it is reasonable to use anonymous sources when a source could be at risk for being harmed. The story should be a story of importance to society. It should not be a gossip story, but rather a story that could affect the society as a whole such as corruption in government or an institution. Editors need to use discretion in deciding whether an anonymous source is appropriate.

    I think in the John Edwards story, quotes should have been sourced to maintain credibility on a sticky story to begin with. The Edwards story seems gossipy to me anyhow. It’s a “he said she said” story. Until it can be proven, with a paternal test, that Edwards is the father, not much should be reported about the situation. The public knows Edwards is rumored as being the father, but there are no hard facts to prove he is. Plus, this isn’t really something of that much importance to the public. Yes it’s entertaining to read about, but such stories can be found in the National Enquirer. As for the U-M football story, I think the use of anonymous sources was appropriate. The reporters were careful to check facts and covered all the bases in the story. It is understandable why the players didn’t want to be on the record. The couch could have cut the player’s playing time, or even found reasons to dismiss a player from the team. Fans may turn against the players. Having their names published could harm the players.
    I think it was OK to use anonymous sources in the Afghanistan story because it was government officials who were anonymously sourced.

    I can’t recall a story I have read that had anonymous sources, other than things I’ve read in gossip magazines. I typically never believe what I read in those magazines because they use anonymous sources frequently.

  3. Erin Grant
    October 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why?

    I think it is alright to use anonymous sources to protect the safety of the source. If the story being reported is a very controversial subject, it might be better not to reveal the source to protect them from potential harm. Otherwise I think anonymous sources should be avoided at all costs.

    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?

    The guidelines should be they have to know the importance of the source to the person or subject being covered. If the person is random and has no direct affiliation with the story, the source should not be used. Another guideline should be that the reporter needs to have a written statement as to why they are revealing information and their cover cannot be blown. Basically, the editor needs to know the motive behind the release of important information.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column) was appropriate? Why or why not?

    Depends on the story and who the source is. In the case of the U-M football story, it might have been a bunch of football players complaining about practicing too much. With the John Edwards story it is difficult to say it was appropriate. We are discussing the fathering of a child. Unless the source has a real close tie and can prove their information, it may not have been appropriate to use that anonymous source.

    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility? Tell me about it.

    I have never read a story involving anonymous sources. However, if I was the reporter writing the story, I would be very reluctant to use the source unless they could give me a valid reason as to why they must remain unknown. If you ask me, anonymity is sketchy.

  4. Samantha Millard
    October 7, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Sam Millard’s Blog Response:

    Read all three of these reports and then answer the following questions in the comments section for your class.

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why?
    Anonymous sources are very risky, and that is seen in the three articles posted on this blog. I think it is appropriate to use an anonymous source when the source wants to remain anonymous for protection issues. If the article is very controversial and the source could get in a lot of trouble or be put in danger, it would also be a good idea to keep the source anonymous.

    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?
    I think that the guidelines an editor should have for using an anonymous source is that they write everything down, including the source’s name and what the source said. Then, the editor needs to think about the importance of the source to the story, and how reliable sources are. I believe that anonymous sources need to be even more reliable than a recognized source. I also think it would be a good idea to have the source and the editor sign a paper. The source would be signing the paper, saying that s/he did release the information. The editor would be signing the paper, agreeing not to reveal the source’s name. I have never worked in the media, so I do not know how effective signing papers would be to keep a source anonymous and know that the source did release information.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column was appropriate? Why or why not?
    I think that it would be fine to use anonymous sources in the U-M football story, because I can understand why the sources would not want their names revealed. I would think very carefully about publishing a story like that, especially since the paper that published it is in the same state as the football team that it is criticizing. If it were a Nebraska paper publishing the story, I would say go ahead and use the anonymous sources. Just make sure that the sources are very reliable.
    In the John Edwards story, I would be reluctant to use an anonymous source. Because the story is about whether or not Edwards is the father of a child, I would be very careful when using an anonymous source. That could be a very controversial story, especially since we did not know if Edwards was really the father. If the source was dependable and the information was definitely true, I would publish it.
    In the Afghanistan story, I would not publish the information from an anonymous source. Saying that the war effort “will likely result in failure” could be very controversial, especially since we are dealing with the government. If the source was not anonymous, it would make a great story, but it does not work well to have an anonymous source and publish something like that.
    In the issue of the Paterson story, I would publish it like the Times did. Zeleny said, “We had confirmation from several people that this was going on. It was more important, in my view, to report this meeting, this extraordinary effort. We gave Paterson a chance to comment and he didn’t.” I think that since they had confirmation from several people that it was going on, it was fine to publish, as long the people were reliable sources. Also, they gave Paterson a chance to comment and he chose not to.

    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility? Tell me about it.
    I probably have read a story with anonymous sources, but it is just difficult to remember everything I have read. Recently, I do not recall having read anything in a newspaper with anonymous sources that made me question the credibility. I am sure I have in the past.

  5. Courtney Pitts
    October 7, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Reputable news outlets should avoid anonymous sources like the plague. Citing “an associate” turns an informative news story into a National Enquirer look alike.
    However, situations exist where anonymous sources are appropriate. The U-M football story was an excellent example. The players deserved to have their identity protected. If named, the players could’ve been scorned by fans or forced to sit out for the season. Their athletic careers could’ve been damaged.
    The John Edwards story seemed like a bunch of gossip from the beginning, and I’m surprised news sources picked up the story so quickly. Associates, people familiar with the mistress, a source close to the senator: this vocabulary belongs on E! News not in The Washington Post. News organizations shouldn’t report stories with anonymous sources just to get the information out. Newspapers and other media should wait until someone will go on record, especially stories that scream gossip. Waiting doesn’t hurt, if it makes the news organization more reputable.
    The Afghanistan report issue is harder to nail down. I’d rather the New York Times name the person who handed over the report, but there was warrant for protecting the identity of the person. If the paper investigated possible agendas and found nothing, then I support the use of the document.
    I think all editors should have very strict guidelines. The only reason to use an anonymous source is to protect someone. Otherwise, outlets should take a step back from their computers, investigate more and let the story develop.
    If reporters use an anonymous source they should tell their editor the sources name. Agendas should be checked and bias should be eliminated.
    When I think of anonymous sources, I think of TMZ or other entertainment outlets. I don’t think of the New York Times or other legitimate sources – and that’s how it should be.

  6. Ruth Angelina
    October 7, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    I think it is appropriate to use anonymous source if the source will get into trouble that he/she does not deserve for giving the information. I will also consider it appropriate if the information provided will help prevent a group of people from being exploited.

    One of the guidelines that an editor should have for using anonymous source is to find out the true agenda of the source and ensure that it is not a dishonorable one. The editor should confirm that the information is actually necessary and related to the news, not just adding a sensational element to the story. Last but not least, to consider the credibility of the source.

    I think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story was appropriate to protect the interests of the college football players. Revealing their identities might hurt them as coaches and fans might attempt to get even by giving unfair treatment. Using anonymous sources in this story is vital to confirm that the program is not following the rules set by National Collegiate Athletic Association. In the John Edwards story, the various anonymous sources are inappropriate because most of them add no context to the story, only sensationalism. In this case, the statements cannot be confirmed as facts because the anonymity of the sources is questionable since the sources might have a different agenda than to just inform. I think the use of anonymous sources for the Afghanistan and Paterson stories are justified because a journalist’s main role is to inform citizens of the truth. Bob Woodward, Raymond Hernandez and Jeff Zeleny did their job by seeking for the truth and not keeping readers in the dark.

    I have read a lot of stories with anonymous sources in magazines, mostly incorporated into gossip stories about celebrities. Among the most common descriptions of the source is “family friend.” This has never failed to make me question the credibility of the stories because it sounds almost like the source wants to bring the superstar down and the journalist is just chasing after a juicy gossip for hungry readers.

  7. Alia Conley
    October 7, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    I think it is okay to use anonymous sources when there are multiple sources that come forward and report similar experiences. For example, in the case of the University of Michigan story, I think the editors and reporters were correct in using the anonymous sources because there were multiple people — 10 players and four parents — who all had the same story when interviewed separately.

    In Woodward’s case, I think it’s okay he used his anonymous source because, as a well-known professional journalist, he has probably had experience dealing with ethical issues concerning anonymous sources. As a journalist, I trust his judgment to see if there is any motive behind an anonymous source.

    I can’t remember recently reading a story with an anonymous source, but I would be a bit wary if for an entire story a newspaper only relied on one anonymous source. The Edwards story is difficult, because I think they did the correct thing to run the story, but all of their sources were anonymous, and I wish they would have found one source who would be named.

    Anonymous sources are okay for stories concerning profiles, or non-controversial stories. In high school, I wrote a story about students who were engaged. I talked to three girls, one who wanted to be anonymous and two who let their names be printed. I still used the quotes from the anonymous girl, and by having other sources who were legitimate, I felt that people could trust that I wasn’t making up another source. However, as a journalist, if I would hear a tip that seems too fishy, then I know not to trust the source. In general, first I would make sure I am doing the ethical thing to protect the person accused and once I feel a source is legitimate, then I would use the information to have a breaking news story.

  8. Sara Nelson
    October 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I think in certain circumstances it is appropriate to use anonymous sources. Editors must think about the sources motivation for leaking the information, what will the source gain from leak? If the source has something to gain, this should be a red flag to editors and reporters that the information might not be true. I also think it is important for reporters to find multiple sources with the same information, even if all sources ask to remain anonymous, it is important to get one than one source.
    I think that the use of an anonymous source in the U-M football story was appropriate, because the story contained more then one anonymous source, and the sources did not have anything to gain from the story. I think in the case of the John Edwards story, it was risky to print the story because the source involved could have had a motive to gain publicity for his new book. Although, the information did end up being truthful I think his motives to gain publicity out weighed the importance of the story. I think the Afghanistan story it is a much tougher call to make, because the story could potentially provide information that would put our military in danger. I do think that the reporter made the right decision in this case but I think it was a big risk. The Paterson story I think was acceptable use of anonymous sources because the Times had a number of anonymous sources reporting that this was going on. Unless all the sources were conspiring together, there is a very good chance that the report was accurate.
    I cannot think of any stories that I have read recently that have used anonymous sources, but I think it would make me question the credibility. But if the report had a number of anonymous sources I would be more convinced of its credibility.

  9. Steven Cain
    October 8, 2009 at 10:23 am

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why?
    I think it is appropriate to use anonymous sources in situations where the source is at risk if his or her name is published. However, in choosing which sources to grant anonymity a reporter must be very careful to do everything possible to verify the statements. Additionally, it is important for a reporter to find out exactly why the source wishes to remain anonymous. Are they holding a grudge? What exactly is their motive?

    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?
    In short, I think an editor should look at three elements when deciding whether or not to use an anonymous source: relevancy, reliability, and motive. If the quote isn’t relevant or important to the story an anonymous source can hurt the paper’s reputation. Unless the source is providing important information to the story, there is no reason to grant anonymity. Can the source’s information be corroborated? If more than one anonymous source says the same thing it can strengthen the use of anonymous sources. Motive is also an element in determining the reliability. A reporter should also find the motive of the source because it is important to find out if the source is carrying a grudge or has any reason to make up a story about the subject of the story.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column) was appropriate? Why or why not?
    In the U-M football story I believe the anonymous sources were justified because they had multiple previous players saying the same thing. It’s clear that the players would have been treated poorly if their names were printed as the people who brought forward the story. I don’t know about the motive of the sources, but it’s certainly an understandable situation, and I am doubtful that all the different anonymous sources would have made up the same story about their U-M football experience. In the John Edwards story there were both on-record and anonymous sources. In that situation I think the anonymous sources were ok because it would provoke the same response either way. If I was editing that story I would try to eliminate the anonymous sources, but if they were necessary to fill out the story I would not hesitate. In the Afghanistan story I would be hesitant to use anonymous sources because the story could compromise future military actions. Finally, in the Paterson story is another one that I normally would have not used the anonymous sources, but since the paper said they had “confirmation from several sources that this was going on,” I would be more likely to publish it.

    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility? Tell me about it. Being a fan of small-production technology blogs, such as gizmodo.com or engadget.com, I am familiar with stories involving anonymous sources. However, these anonymous sources are used in stories clearly labeled as rumor or speculation. I do not have a problem with the use of anonymous sources in these situations. However, I would be much more skeptical of stories that tried to use anonymous sources as facts.

  10. Jared Hanner
    October 8, 2009 at 11:35 am

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why? – In stories such as those about John Edwards or other major political figures, I think using anonymous sources is acceptable so long as you have someone that does agree to go on record. A story without named sources lacks credibility.
    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources? – When using anonymous sources, it is important that editors are actually told who the source is, even if they will not be using their name in print. If a reporter comes back with a story and will not even share the name of the source with their editor, there is no way that story should be printed. Editors should also question the motives of the anonymous sources that their reporters use. In the case of the leak about Paterson, was the source hostile toward the Governor or did they simply have access to the information and felt the public had a right to know.
    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column was appropriate? Why or why not? – The story about the U-M football players used their anonymous sources well. The players that were currently on the team had a real interest in not allowing their names in print. College football being what it is, there could have been a backlash against them criticizing their school. The Edwards story could have tried for a few more named sources and Kurtz made a good point at the end when he quoted the line about the dinner Edwards and his wife attended. Why did that source need to remain anonymous? The information wasn’t particularly relevant to the overall story and could have been left out all together.
    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility? Tell me about it. – I can’t really think about a story that I have read where I really questioned the accuracy of the information an anonymous source gave. I have always trusted the media to check facts and confirm such information. However, as I take more classes in the J-school, my trust of anonymous sources and those that rely on them is waning.

  11. Chelsea Coli
    October 8, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I think that it is appropriate to use anonymous sources only when the subject of the article is one that can potentially put the source in a bad light or in danger. I think that anonymous sources should be used sparingly. I think that an editor should leave out any extra information that the article doesn’t need. For example, the quote about Edwards and his wife at dinner was unnecessary and quotes like that help readers to doubt news sources. I completely understand why the students in the article about the football team wanted to remain anonymous. Not only would they get criticized by the coach, but also by the team. I also agree with the anonymous sources in the other two articles are also understandable. The subject matters were very delicate and exposing the sources could be very hurtful to careers and reputations. The only stories that come to mind are stories that relate to celebrities. There are so many stories like this that it undoubtedly makes me question the credibility.

  12. Andrew Robeson
    October 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why?
    I think it is appropriate in the situations I just read about. In the Michigan situation there is no reason to doubt the accounts when other sources corroborate the story. When several sources corroborate a story individually, I think it is safe to run that story with anonymous sources if they fear retribution, but obviously it would be preferable to name them. As mentioned in the Edwards story sometimes anonymous sources are overused, and that harms credibility. Anonymous sources should ony be used when there is no other way to get a story.

    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?
    I think an editor has to ask a few questions before using an anonymous source:
    Can we get anyone else to go on record about this?
    Is this story credible if there are only anonymous sources?
    Why does the person want to remain anonymous? What motives do they have for giving us this information?
    If the only way to get a story is with anonymous sources, and the source(s) has(have) no other motives, then go with the story. Anonymous sources are risky, and every situation needs to be weighed individually.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column was appropriate? Why or why not?
    In the U-M football story I thought the anonymous source use was appropriate. Several people corroborated a story, thus giving it credibility, and it is easy to understand their fear of retribution. Both current and past players were claiming the same things, and this, to me, eliminates any conspiracy theories. The editors made the right choice in going with the anonymous sources.
    In the John Edwards story I thought anonymous sources seemed overused. When you need to use an anonymous source to tell the reader Edwards was ignored at dinner you begin to lose credibility. When every sentence in a story is attributed to an anonymous source then what do you really have? A bunch of claims and no evidence. With a public figure like John Edwards there should be people willing to come forward and talk about him, and at least admit seeing him out in public with his mistress. If you can’t get that, don’t bother with the story.
    For the Afghanistan story I disagreed with Bob Woodward. I think we do need to know the source’s stance on the war and what their motives war. For me it was not enough that he assured us the source had no motives; I rather make that decision for myself after being presented with the facts.
    I thought the use of anonymous sources in the Paterson story was appropriate. In a sensitive story like that it is going to be hard to get people to go on record, especially when they might be throwing the “White House” under the bus. If you can get sources you know to be credible, but will not be identified, then go with the story.

    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility? Tell me about it.
    I can not recall a specific story I read with anonymous sources. The most obvious thing I can think of is “Deep Throat” and nobody questions the credibility of that. However, the important lesson there is that the reporters took information from a source, and then went and got evidence. I think reporters can only rely on a source to a degree, but need to be able to gather some information on their own to give their story credibility. The Edwards story could have easily had more evidence, but due to what I deem as lazy reporting, it did not.

  13. Kevin Zelaya
    October 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why? What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?
    -When the story deals with national security issues or when there is breaking news regarding a public official, these are the two times I’d feel confident in using anonymous sources. Using anonymous sources should be used preferably for a breaking news story, to hold a public official accountable or to right a social wrong in my opinion.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column was appropriate? Why or why not?
    -I’m not sure using anonymous sources for the John Edwards story was necessary since he was no longer in the spot light, a public official and his career is about dead. I absolutely agree with using anonymous sources in the Paterson and Afghanistan stories because the information in both cases was confirmed, breaking news and of importance to the public. The Michigan football story garnered the most sympathy with me, I’m all for looking out for the students first, especially when they are being worked excessive hours, so I had no problem using them as anonymous sources.

    Have you read a story with anonymous sources that made you question its credibility?
    -Trashy stories in gossip magazines come to mind although the New York Times has a chronic habit of using anonymous sources but then again they are who they are. No one pressing news story comes to mind at the moment.

  14. Alain Nguyen
    October 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    When – if ever – do you think it’s appropriate to use anonymous sources? Why?
    My favorite saying about anonymous source is “anonymous sources don’t kill journalism, sloppy journalists kill journalism”. If you’re doing a story that is controversial then likely your source will want to remain anonymous for safety reasons. It just depends on the story you’re doing; whether or not the anonymous source(s) would hurt or help the story should be the deciding factor whether or not to use it.

    What guidelines do you think an editor should have for using anonymous sources?
    Like I have already said, using anonymous source(s) is up to the publisher. One deciding factor is relevancy, is the anonymous source relevant to the story. Is it going to hurt or help the story? If the source is random and has nothing to do with the story then why use it. But if on the other hand the source is relevant and helps enhance the story, then why not use it.

    Do you think the anonymous source use in the U-M football story, the John Edwards story, the Afghanistan and Paterson stories (mentioned in the Kurtz column) was appropriate? Why or why not?
    The U-M football story was fine in using an anonymous source because the sources were some of the football team’s own players. I understand that and if their names were to be reveal, there would’ve have been some major backlash. In the John Edwards story I would have not used anonymous sources because it was ok, it didn’t hurt or help the story since there was already sources that weren’t anonymous. Using the anonymous source just pretty much reiterated what was already said from the sources that weren’t anonymous. Putting the anonymous source in the Afghanistan story was a big risk I think. Even though it was a big risk, it helped enhanced the story and it was worth using even though it could have pose danger to our military. And with a controversial story like the Patterson story, it was appropriate to use anonymous source. I don’t think a lot of them would’ve wanted their names revealed in the story. It was a sensitive situation and the anonymous source use was appropriate.

    The only stories I’ve read with anonymous sources are from entertainment trash magazines like US weekly and In Touch Weekly but that’s not saying much. Or than that I haven’t read I have never read a story involving anonymous sources or maybe I have but don’t

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