Comments: Anonymous Sources vs. Anonymous Commenters: How they are similar and why they should be rare

We all have potential or real conflicts of interest, NDAs, confidentiality agreements... don't these seem to be legitimate grounds for anonymity? I agree that it should be minimized; decisions are made more effectively with full citation.

Posted by joe at February 29, 2004 09:56 PM

Conflicts of interest should be made available to people reading stories who need to know about they conflict as the evaluate a quoted person's words. NDA and confidentiality agreements, if they conflict with what is being disclosed, are a different matter. If the information being revealed is of high importance (say, a Diebold consultant were to reveal some election-damaging activity that was taken the night before an election) and the person's identity needed to be protected, then a story should explain the reason, and put the information up because it is critical to get it out into the ideas marketplace for consideration. If a person under NDA is just revealing confidential info that is not critical to national security or where the person is in some danger or whatever, then the reporter needs to ask why, and investigate, think about what is going on and decide if they want to give this person a mouthpiece in the media.

The point is, even this past week, anonymous sources were cited when it seems unnecessary to do so, and then when they were cited, no reason was given for it in the story.

Posted by mary hodder at March 1, 2004 07:08 AM

In the 300-plus page book I'm writing, I think I'm using just one anonymous source, and that one only because what he's doing is illegal. But a daily newspaper has other considerations, and may not have the time or luxury of finding someone else (if he or she exists) to speak on the record about a particular subject.

To be sure, it's a bad habit, and deserves to die out, except for important government information and a few other exceptions. Reporters do need to needle more officials to go on the record, but I've never met a reporter who didn't wince (at least a little) when someone asks to go on background.

Posted by JD Lasica at March 1, 2004 11:42 PM