OLD Media Moves

WSJ uses anonymous sources less than other big papers

July 16, 2008

Slate media critic Jack Shafer recently tracked the use of anonymous sources in the country’s big papers and discovered that The Wall Street Journal uses them less than anyone else.

Wall Street JournalShafer writes, “Some reporters smuggle anonymous quotations into their stories as payment to sources for taking the time to talk to them, even if the sources said nothing of substance. Some reporters use anonymous sources to state the obvious (see the Evan Bayh example above) because their editors won’t let them say it on their own authority. Other reporters have been trained that any quotation, no matter how vacuous, will increase the truth value of a story. So, they plug them in.

“Then there are the diabolic journalists who publish anonymous material solely because it creates the mystery and tension their article inherently lacks. And some reporters are just loose. (For an informative, inside discussion on the proper use of anonymous sources see this chat between readers and New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson from June 2008.)

“My standards aren’t really that different from the ones followed by the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. The problem always comes in applying those standards. I had a good chuckle when I discovered in the course of my newspaper analysis that the Wall Street Journal, which has no written, public standards for the use of anonymous sources, is the most reluctant of the four big dailies to cite anonymice. Maybe there’s a lesson there.”

Read more here.

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