Using anonymous sources in reporting


For a long list of reasons, it is better to use the names of sources that are willing to be quoted in an news article. However, sometimes sources don’t want their names to be revealed because they have fear of the valuable information they’re giving.

As an ethical rule, journalists should not reveal a person’s identity unless that person gives consent. Nonetheless, frequent use of anonymous sources has become a controversial issue.

If, for example, you are reporting a story on a city mayor who is stealing money from the city and you find a knowledgeable source that works with the mayor. The source tells you everything the mayor does and reveals he or she is stealing money. Then, the source gives you details about the mayor’s corrupt activities but tells you to keep his identity secret because otherwise he would get fired.

If you want to be a professional journalist and keep your job, you must be willing to keep that promise of not revealing the source’s name even if you confront extreme pressure to reveal this confidential information.

When a journalist wants to uncover a big secret and produce a good story of public interest, anonymous sources are often key for revealing these quality stories.

Nevertheless, the protection of source’s identities can result in journalists facing jail and paying fines for contempt of court charges. If journalists want to avoid jail or fines, judges can make them reveal information even when it has been promised to keep the secret.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, the legal protection provided to journalists to protect confidential sources is not 100 percent secure. “Judith Miller, a New York Times journalist, for example, spent three months in jail for refusing to identify the source of the leak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.”

The right of journalists to use and not reveal confidential sources is being debated. Some police officers and judges tend to argue that journalists have no right to make people anonymous and protect their information when these sources are subject of crime investigation.

Anonymity is a serious matter in journalism. Journalists are being more pressured than ever to reveal secret sources. As future journalists, we have to resist this pressure in order to maintain our ethical standards in this profession.