Sunday, December 19, 2010

Anonymous Anything Is a Problem

Washington Post readers constantly complain about the excessive use of anonymous sources in the newspaper. But the problem is even worse online, according to the newspaper's ombudsman.

"Staff-written news blogs are replete with violations of The Post's long-established and laudable standards governing confidential sources," Andrew Alexander, Washignton Post ombudsman says. "These unnamed sources often are cited without providing readers with even a hint of their reliability or why they were granted anonymity."

In the first two weeks of December alone, Post news blogs included more than 20 unnamed sources without any explanation of their quality or why they warranted confidentiality, says Alexnder. Many blogs referred only to 'sources' or 'those close to' a subject or situation.

In some ways, use of such sources is an occupational hazard. Some sources will say things only if they are not quoted or identified, and the technique remains an important way some news gets out. But such leaks typically always have an agenda.

Some might say the problem is even worse for anonymous comments and posts online, which tend to encourage rude behavior. Some will argue anonymous comments, posts or statements, though sometimes useful, are overused.

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