A Downward Trend in Use of Anonymous Sources: Surveys of Journalists and Public Opinion Place the Use and Need for Anonymous Sources in a Broader Context

Nieman Reports, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Downward Trend in Use of Anonymous Sources: Surveys of Journalists and Public Opinion Place the Use and Need for Anonymous Sources in a Broader Context


Tom Rosenstiel, who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism, spoke about some findings on the use of anonymous sources that are in the 2005 State of the Media report issued by his project.

We examined 16 newspapers of varying sizes and, in that sample, seven percent of all the stories contained at least one anonymous source. That is down from 29 percent that we found in a similar sample a year ago. With front-page stories, it's 13 percent, also down from last year. The bigger the paper, not surprisingly, the more prevalent anonymous sourcing is. If we examined just Washington stories, my hypothesis is that the number would be even higher. In looking at other media, something interesting emerges. In network television, more than half of the stories contain anonymous sources, and when we looked at packages on TV--eliminating the stories that the anchor reads, which are very brief--the number goes up to 68 percent. Is that because those stories are more investigative and include more secret material? I'm not sure that's the cause. We've been told by people in network television that often they eliminate attributions simply because of the compression of time. It's convenient to just say, "Administration sources say...." If we went back and looked at the tapes, I suspect a lot of these references to anonymous sources would not be on stories where the information was somehow closely held. In cable, which is a more extemporaneous medium with very few news packages and most of the time is spent in live interviews, only nine percent of the stories have anonymous sources. On the Internet, where the stories are largely from print sources--very heavily wire copy--we looked just at the Web page's four or five lead stories and 19 percent of the stories contained anonymous sources. What I think this tells us is that the format, and not always the journalism, determines how much transparency there is about sourcing.

Gene Policinski, who is executive director of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, described findings from a recent public opinion survey about the use of anonymous sources and also from a questionnaire that was given to journalists to determine the frequency and utility of their use of these sources.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A Downward Trend in Use of Anonymous Sources: Surveys of Journalists and Public Opinion Place the Use and Need for Anonymous Sources in a Broader Context
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?