Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

NYT Strengthens Rules Governing Anonymous Sourcing

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan:

The policy, several months in the making, is the result of newsroom leaders consulting with “a number of our most experienced reporters and editors,” the email said.

It requires one of three top editors to review and sign off on articles that depend primarily on information from unnamed sources – particularly those that “hinge on a central fact” from such a source, [Matt] Purdy told me last week in an interview. The editors are [Dean] Baquet, Mr. Purdy, and Susan Chira, another deputy executive editor. […]

The new policy also aims to significantly “ratchet down the use of anonymous quotation,” Mr. Purdy said. It would make such quotation relatively rare. Too often, he said, such direct quotations allow sources to express “their impression, their spin, their agenda” without accountability. And, he said, they don’t allow readers to evaluate motive because they don’t know where the information is coming from.

Anonymous sourcing is increasingly common, so much so that someone created a website several years ago mocking the press’ clichéd use of them.1 I think that we’ve lost some skepticism for stories that utilize anonymous sources, and I think it’s due to the regularity of their use. They’re invaluable for storytelling and news gathering, but the Times and many others have failed to vet their sources and, as a result, have published incorrect and sometimes damaging stories. This is a necessary move that newsrooms should copy.


  1. The site appears down at the moment, but Google has it cached↩︎