Our editors & readers talk
Anonymous sources – Reuters rules
Portfolio’s Zubin Jelveh then followed up with a post that included some statistics about Reuters use vs. other news organizations.
In the interest of transparency, I’m posting Reuters basic guidance on sourcing (we also have detailed guidance that expands on the points below):
Accuracy entails honesty in sourcing. Our reputation for that accuracy, and for freedom from bias, rests on the credibility of our sources. A Reuters journalist or camera is always the best source on a witnessed event. A named source is always preferable to an unnamed source. We should never deliberately mislead in our sourcing, quote a source saying one thing on the record and something contradictory on background, or cite sources in the plural when we have only one. Anonymous sources are the weakest sources. …
Here are some handy tips:
- Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information they provide, even though we remain liable for accuracy, balance and legal dangers. Press your sources to go on the record.
- Reuters will use unnamed sources where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record. We alone are responsible for the accuracy of such information.
- When talking to sources, always make sure the ground rules are clear. Take notes and record interviews.
- Cross-check information wherever possible. Two or more sources are better than one. In assessing information from unnamed sources, weigh the source’s track record, position and motive. Use your common sense. If it sounds wrong, check further.
- Talk to sources on all sides of a deal, dispute, negotiation or conflict.
- Be honest in sourcing and in obtaining information. Give as much context and detail as you can about sources, whether named or anonymous, to authenticate information they provide. Be explicit about what you don’t know.
- Reuters will publish news from a single, anonymous source in exceptional cases, when it is credible information from a trusted source with direct knowledge of the situation. Single-source stories are subject to a special authorisation procedure.
- A source’s compact is with Reuters, not with the reporter. If asked on legitimate editorial grounds, you are expected to disclose your source to your supervisor. Protecting the confidentiality of sources, by both the reporter and supervisor, is paramount.
- When doing initiative reporting, try to disprove as well as prove your story.
- Accuracy always comes first. It’s better to be late than wrong. Before pushing the button, think how you would withstand a challenge or a denial.
- Know your sources well. Consider carefully if the person you are communicating with is an imposter. Sources can provide information by whatever means available – telephone, in person, email, instant messaging, text message. But be aware that any communication can be interfered with.
- Reuters will stand by a reporter who has followed the sourcing guidelines and the proper approval procedures.
We don’t always get it right. There are times we should have pressed harder to get a source to go on the record with his or her name; there are times when we should have spiked (thrown away) a story because the sourcing wasn’t totally up to our standards.
But I think the record of our 2,500 journalists is on balance a good one: we use anonymous sources judiciously and in the interest of getting important stories. In the end it’s what you, our readers, think that matters – you’re the ultimate arbiter of our credibility.
(photo credit: Journalists wait outside the Lenval Hospital where U.S. actress Angelina Jolie gave birth to twins in Nice, southern France, July 13, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Serrano)