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Monday, March 14, 2005

Fewer Anonymous Sources: Not better reporting, just more fluff

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Never say we don’t follow up on our reports. When we told you about what Jack Shafer‘s campaign against anonymous sources at the beginning of the month, you thought we would just forget about that whole press problem, didn’t you? Perhaps you also thought we’d stop the tasteless tactic of rhetorical questions as well, eh?

With the New York Times second on Shafer’s hit list of The Anonymous Reliant (with the Los Angeles Times holding the top spot), it’s rewarding to see the NYT‘s Katharine Seelye tackle the issue. Seelye performed the admirable task of actually reading a study (okay, in all likelihood she pulled a senior thesis trick and only read the “Conclusions” section) and reveals the Project for Excellence in Journalism found just 7 percent of newspaper articles using anonymous sources in 2004.

But readers could very well be misled over these figures. The drop from 29 percent of articles using anonymous sourcing in 2003 is likely not the result of stronger journalistic guidelines or an industry-wide effort to force on-the-record interviews. We have an inkling the drop in “said a senior official” instances is merely evidence of newspapers tackling less and less hard news subjects where politicos and their aides have to actually speak to a reporter instead of issuing a press release.

Instead, readers end up with more fluff pieces where sources are begging to get their name in print. And the Times‘ Sunday Styles is about to help that 7 percent figure drop even lower.

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