Newspaper ombudsmen’s reactions to use of anonymous sources

Newspaper ombudsmen’s reactions to use of anonymous sources

Wilson, Sherrie L

Surveys of ombudsmen find that most feel their papers use anonymous sources about the right amount and that the public does not object to such use.

Journalists are ambivalent about the use of anonymous sources: They criticize eir overuse, yet they often depend on them for information when writing stories.l A 1979 American Society of Newspaper Editors study demonstrated these mixed attitudes. Eighty-one percent of the 203 journalist respondents to a mail survey said unnamed sources were less believable, on the whole, than named sources, yet 87 percent said the use of unnamed sources was, on balance, a good practice.2

Journalists’ ambivalence continues in the 1990s. In a 1994 American Journalism Review article, Alicia C. Shepard wrote: “Many journalists feel about anonymous sources the way people in troubled relationships feel about their partners: can t live with them, can t live with them, can’t live without them.”3

The use of anonymous sources presents what Carl Hausman called “conflicts of accountability.”4 He said journalists have obligations to sources including the protection of their identities if they have been promised confidentiality – but journalists also have obligations to the public – including providing complete information about their sources. When reporters use anonymous sources, the public has less opportunity to evaluate the truthfulness of the information. In many cases, Hausman said, journalists could get more information on the record with additional investigative effort.5 Even respondents to the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ survey estimated that 56 percent of the unnamed sources quoted in American newspapers would agree to be quoted by name if reporters insisted.6

The debate about the use of anonymous sources often gets played out in journalistic trade publications with some writers bemoaning their use, some stressing their utility for certain types of stories, and others trying to find the right balance for their use.7

Much of the recent academic research on the use of anonymous sources occurred after the Washington Post lost a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 because reporter Janet Cooke fabricated a story about an 8-year-old heroin addict. In a 1981-82 study of newspapers and television stations, K. Tim Wulfemeyer found that 40 percent of the news executives surveyed reported scrutinizing stories more carefully after the Cooke case, and 32 percent reported greater demands on reporters to reveal the names of anonymous sources to editors.8 O.J. Simpson’s criminal trial again triggered concerns about anonymous sources because of “numerous erroneous stories based on false information attributed to unnamed sources.”9

The 1991 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Cohen v. Cowles Media” also prompted academic and legal interest in the media’s use of anonymous sources, but from a different perspective. In Cohen, the court held that the First Amendment did not exempt newspapers from their obligations to keep promises of confidentiality to news sources. Numerous articles in law and academic journals criticized the decision for its intrusion into an area usually controlled more by ethical than legal considerations.”

Some media organizations have policies regarding the use of anonymous sources. Wulfemeyer found about 24 percent of 65 newspapers and 64 televisions stations he surveyed had formal, written policies on the use of anonymous sources. The percentage was 32 percent for newspapers and 16 percent for televisions stations. About 71 percent of the media surveyed (69 percent for newspapers and 72 percent for television stations) had informal policies.’2 Charles N. Davis, Susan D. Ross and Paul H. Gates Jr. found that 40 percent of 64 large-circulation newspapers had written policies on the use of anonymous sources; 92 percent of the newspapers had either a written or a nonwritten policy.”

But policies go only so far. Ethical decisions about the use of anonymous sources are usually made on a case-by-case basis. For this research project, ombudsmen at U.S. daily newspapers were asked about ethical concerns and practices regarding the use of anonymous sources. They also were asked about the public’s concern with anonymous sources.

Edmund B. Lambeth defined an ombudsman as “a person designated to monitor a news medium for accuracy and fairness, explain the news business to the public, and convey viewpoints of readers or viewers to management.”14 Most ombudsmen field telephone calls from the public about newspaper content and practices. Many also write columns addressing ethical issues, often those raised by readers. Because of their contact with both the public and journalists, ombudsmen can offer a unique perspective on issues surrounding the use of anonymous sources.

Literature review

Much of the research has concentrated on three areas: uses of anonymous sources, views of the public toward their use, and ethical concerns raised by their use. Little research has looked specifically at ombudsmen s views on anonymous sources.

Uses of anonymous sources

Research has shown the media’s use of anonymous sources to be widespread. Hugh M. Culbertson found 36 percent of the 5,182 stories analyzed in 12 newspapers contained at least one use of what he called veiled attribution, ^sup bu^t the frequency of the practice varied greatly.15 More than half of the stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post used such attributions, while slightly less than one-third of the stories in six Ohio dailies used them.16 In a related study of 12 issues each of Time and Newsweek, Culbertson found veiled attribution in 70 percent of Newsweek stories and in 75 percent of Time stories.17 Wulfemeyer found that 81 percent of 388 randomly selected Time and Newsweek stories contained anonymous sources.18

In a study that compared the use of anonymous sources by Florida newspaper reporters in 1974 and in 1984, Byron St. Dizier found that nearly all of the journalists (100 percent in 1974 and 97 percent in 1984) reported using anonymous sources, but the frequency of use dropped between 1974 and 1984.19

Wulfemeyer and Lori L. McFadden found that 55 percent of the 416 stories in 27 television network newscasts contained anonymous attribution.20 They found fairly consistent use of anonymous sources across subject matters; differences among subject categories and among the networks were not statistically significant 21 Wulfemeyer’s Time and Newsweek study, however, found unnamed sources were used more in international stories than in national stories.22

Recent research on anonymous sources has explored differences in their use in various types of stories. Bryan Denham found the New York Times used anonymous sources more frequently in foreign-policy than in domesticpolicy stories.23 He attributed this to sources’ personal and professional risks being greater with foreign-policy issues than with highly scrutinized domestic issues.24 In a study of the coverage of six foreign-policy issues and six domesticpolicy issues in eight newspapers, John W. Williams found that significant differences in the use of anonymous sources between foreign and domestic issues depended on the newspaper and the story.25 Daniel Riffe and Gail Johnson’s study of the use of anonymous sources in the New York Times White House coverage under four presidents found that the openness of each administration was related to differences in the use of unnamed attribution.26

Views of the public

When people are asked specifically about whether they approve of the use of anonymous sources, many oppose the practice. Much of the research, however, raises questions about whether people specifically notice anonymous attribution as they read the newspaper or watch television news and whether it affects their assessments of the media’s credibility.

In telephone interviews with 603 residents of the Chicago metropolitan area, Virginia Dodge Fielder and David H. Weaver found that 55 percent very much or somewhat approved of the use of unnamed sources in news stories, 38 percent very much or somewhat disapproved, and 7 percent weren’t sure.27 Studies conducted for the Associated Press Managing Editors and American Society of Newspaper Editors asked both journalists and the public about “running stories that quote sources who cannot be identified.” Among journalists, 49 percent approved, 40 percent disapproved and 11 percent were neutral. Among the public, 28 percent approved, 58 percent disapproved and 14 percent were neutral.28

In interviews with 283 residents of three Ohio towns, Culbertson and Nancy Somerick found that respondents generally did not have a clear picture of veiled news sources, but few felt a need for clarification. Many of those surveyed said veiled attribution usually reflected a news source’s need for secrecy. “This study provides little support for the idea that veiled attribution is adding to cynicism about the news media,” the researchers wrote.29

In an experiment, Fred Fedler and Tim Counts found that changes in the attribution in a story on a controversial issue (the Equal Rights Amendment) “affected readers’ perceptions of its accuracy and significance and the extent to which they expressed agreement with it.”30 Type of attribution used did not affect subjects’ assessments of a story on a noncontroversial issue (problems encountered by people with disabilities).31 In another experiment, F. Dennis Hale concluded that the type of attribution – no attribution, general attribution (a person’s title was used without a name) and specific attribution (a named source) – “did not make a substantial difference in reader perceptions.”32 The type of story was a more important factor in determining perceptions: Factual stories were perceived as more believable and accurate than opinionated stories.33

Ethical concerns

Ethical concerns surrounding the use of anonymous sources have been a continuing theme among journalists in recent decades. While full attribution of news sources best satisfies journalists’ ethical obligations of “truth telling, doing no harm and seeking justice,” David E. Boeyink wrote, the use of anonymous sources may at times be necessary to meet these same ethical goals.34

William B. Blankenburg emphasized the utility of anonymous sources both for aiding reporting and for providing the public with more diverse viewpoints it After studying the use of anonymous sources in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, he concluded that their use provided more antagonistic information that might not be heard if the sources had to be named; this allowed for fuller coverage of public issues.36

Boeyink outlined seven guidelines for helping journalists decide whether to use anonymous sources:

Promises of anonymity must be authorized by the editor;

Anonymous sources should be used only for a just cause;

Anonymous sources should be used only as a last resort;

Sources should be as fully identified as possible, with reasons for anonymity explained in the story;

Proportionality: editors should balance the potential harms and benefits in any use of anonymous sources;

Anonymous sources can only be used with just intentions by the reporter, the media and the source; and

Just means: use of anonymous sources requires independent verification by a second source 37

Little has been written specifically about the views of ombudsmen on anonymous sources. A 1983 article reported on comments from two ombudsmen on the use of anonymous sources.38 Art Nauman, ombudsman at the Sacramento (California) Bee, wrote that some editors thought the newspaper’s use of anonymous sources was growing, but that editors were monitoring the practice more closely.39 William Wood, ombudsman for the Norfolk (Virginia) Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star, evaluated his newspaper’s performance for 10 months under a policy designed to limit the use of anonymous sources. He found that the “restriction had been effective in all areas of reporting – except politics.”40 Another article contained excerpts from a column in which ombudsman Pat O. Riley of the Register in Santa, Ana, California, criticized the use of anonymous sources that add little to the story and that make accusations.41

More recently, Geneva Overholser, Washington Post ombudsman, has disagreed with reporters and editors about the newspaper’s wide use of anonymous sources, which she has condemned in her columns. An article in Editor & Publisher quoted her as saying: “I really feel that we are underestimating how destructive [anonymous sources] are for journalists. They are a far greater contributor to this much-vaunted decline in civic discourse than we actually talk about. We let anybody say anything.”42 In a March 9,1997, editorial page column, Overholser criticized Post reporter Bob Woodward for relying too heavily on anonymous sources in a story about fund-raising tactics used during the 1996 presidential campaign. Robert G. Kaiser, Post managing editor, responded with an op-ed column defending Woodward and saying anonymous sources can’t always be avoided.43

Research questions

Because the use of anonymous sources is a continuing ethical concern among journalists and because ombudsmen’s jobs include evaluating the performance of their newspapers and dealing with ethical concerns raised by readers, the following research questions were posed:

1. How aware are ombudsmen of their newspapers’ ethics codes and policies concerning anonymous sources, and what do they think of their newspapers’ use of these sources?

2. What are ombudsmen’s perceptions about the public’s concern with anonymous sources?

3. What policies and/or practices do newspaper ombudsmen personally favor regarding the use of anonymous sources and the overriding of promises of confidentiality? Methodology

Two studies provide the data to answer these questions. In the preliminary study, in-depth, on-site, taped interviews were conducted in the summer of 1993 with ombudsmen at nine daily newspapers in the United States.44 The interviews each lasted between one and two hours, and were part of a larger study on how newspapers use ethics codes and on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Cohen v. Cowles Media. During these interviews, the same questions were asked in the same order of each ombudsman. The newspapers selected for the study were in the Midwest, Northeast and Atlantic states. Circulations for the daily newspapers ranged from 40,000 to 800,000. The results of the first study are not generalizable to the other U.S. newspapers with ombudsmen, but the interviews presented a detailed picture of nine newspapers and served as a valuable springboard for the second study.

Information from the interviews was used to develop a mail survey on anonymous sources that was sent to the 37 ombudsmen at U.S. daily newspapers in May 1994. The survey included both closed-ended and open-ended questions. Follow-up phone calls were made to ombudsmen to encourage them to complete the survey. Twenty-three returned the surveys for a response rate of 62 percent.

The combination of the in-depth interviews and mail survey presents a detailed picture of newspaper ombudsmen’s views on anonymous sources. The on-site interviews tended to focus more on ombudsmen’s understanding and impressions of institutional ethics codes and policies, while the survey gathered more data on the personal opinions of ombudsmen.

Findings

Those surveyed

About 60 percent of the ombudsmen who responded to the mail survey had titles of either ombudsman or reader representative, with about 30 percent calling themselves either reader advocate or public editor. About 80 percent had worked in the news media for 20 or more years. Nearly 75 percent of those responding said they worked full time at their ombudsmen jobs. Other duties included outreach seminars, work with lawyer-judge groups, intern coordinator, writing coach and budgetary responsibilities. About 87 percent of ombudsmen surveyed said they wrote columns, with 65 percent having columns that ran one or more times a week.

Question 1

During the in-depth interviews with the nine ombudsmen, four said their newspapers had ethics codes, and five said ethics policies were used. Follow-up questioning about the nature of the ethics policies, however, revealed that the term policy was used loosely, often describing verbal understandings and one-time, uncodified memos. Five of the ombudsmen said their papers’ codes or policies addressed anonymous sources.

Five of the nine did not know the conditions under which confidentiality was granted at their newspapers. Only two of the ombudsmen interviewed could recall an example at their newspapers where a decision was made to grant or not grant confidentiality, and only one could recall ever having written about anonymous sources. Only one of the nine ombudsmen said that reporters or editors had ever consulted him on a question of granting confidentiality, and he indicated that it happened only rarely.

In the mail survey, 83 percent of the ombudsmen said their newspapers relied on anonymous sources about the right amount. One ombudsman wrote: “My paper rarely uses unidentified sources. There’s no written policy or guideline. Each case is considered carefully. The goal is to reduce such use to a minimum. I agree with that.”

Thirteen percent of those surveyed thought their newspapers used anonymous sources too much or far too much. One ombudsman with this viewpoint wrote: “Our policy pays lip service to the idea that confidentiality should be used only as a last resort. It seems, however, that this last resort comes around quite a bit!! I’ve often thought it would be interesting to tie an editor’s salary or bonus to the non-use of [anonymous] sources. (The fewer stories relying on unnamed sources, the bigger the bonus.)”

Question 2

Eight-seven percent of the respondents to the mail survey said that complaints directed at the use of anonymous sources amounted to less than 1 percent of the total number of complaints they had received from readers. Most of the ombudsmen who write columns had addressed the topic of anonymous sources only once or twice.

Most ombudsmen (61 percent) surveyed said the small number of complaints about anonymous sources accurately reflected the fact that their readers were unconcerned about the issue, as well as the fact that the ombudsmen said their newspapers seldom used anonymous sources.

However, 26 percent of ombudsmen surveyed said that they thought readers were more concerned about the issue of anonymous sources than was indicated by the number of complaints. The views of this minority seemed to be summed up by one ombudsman, who wrote on his/her survey: “I think, if asked specifically about unnamed sources, a higher percentage of people would voice disapproval of them. I think a growing number of people distrust the media in general, and unnamed sources contribute to that distrust.” Question 3

When the ombudsmen surveyed were asked how important they personally thought the issue of anonymous sources to be, regardless of how important it appeared to be for readers, about 60 percent said it was either important or very important. Ombudsmen surveyed clearly had opinions on what their general policy would be regarding the granting of confidentiality of sources. Some of the more representative responses were:

“[Grant confidentiality] as a last resort.”

“Ranking editor must approve in advance and know identity [of the source].”

“No other way to obtain very important information.”

“Public interest must be served.”

When ombudsmen surveyed were asked what types of situations they thought would warrant granting confidentiality, some representative responses were: “Major business story in which no public records or sources are available.”

“Major investigation in which source’s safety or job would be in jeopardy.”

“Life in danger, lives in danger, health in danger, etc.”

“National security; achieving peace.”

“Critical issues affecting public policy, including corruption in government; information on ethical issues related to any field.”

“Almost anything. If a person has information that’s newsworthy, we want to know it.” “A situation in which the person giving information could be damaged substantially if identified.”

When anonymous sources are used, 57 percent of the ombudsmen surveyed strongly agreed that the story should contain specific explanations for why confidentiality was granted. Nearly half of the respondents strongly agreed that information that is gained from an anonymous source and used in a story should be independently verified by a second source.

During the in-depth interviews, seven of the nine ombudsmen said they did not know the conditions under which their newspapers would decide to override a promise of confidentiality. In response to the mail survey, however, 39 percent of the ombudsmen said that they personally (as opposed to their newspapers) thought some circumstances did justify overriding promises of confidentiality. Their answers included:

“Someone’s imminent death.”

“Reporter granted confidentiality without authorization (when that requirement is clear to the reporter).”

“When the source has manipulated the confidentiality system to take advantage of readers, i.e. Cohen [Cohen v. Cowles Media].”

“The source is lying.”

Discussion

From this research, a profile emerges of an ombudsman who is a seasoned journalist, considers the use of anonymous sources to be important and has definite opinions about newspapers’ anonymous-source policies.

Ombudsmen also reported they receive few complaints from the public about anonymous sources, although a few said the public may have more concern about the issue than readers’ calls indicate. The lack of complaints seems to confirm what other research has shown regarding the impact of anonymous sources: Anonymous attribution does not affect most people’s assessments of news stories.

Despite the lack of complaints about anonymous sources, journalists continue to confront the conflicts of accountability cited by Hausman – having responsibilities both to sources and to the public. Most ombudsmen view the use of anonymous sources as an important issue for journalists and favor policies to limit their use. Many of the ombudsmen’s suggested policies parallel the guidelines offered by Boeyink – requiring editors to authorize promises of confidentiality, using anonymous sources as a last resort, and balancing the harms and benefits of using anonymous sources.

While ombudsmen clearly have ideas about newspapers’ anonymous source policies, they seldom address the issue in columns they write, in conversations with the public or in conversations with editors and reporters. Perhaps this is because the vast majority express satisfaction with their own newspapers’ use of anonymous sources. Or perhaps ombudsmen see their major role as responding to readers’ complaints, and readers voice few complaints about anonymous sources.

Whatever the reason, the difference between the importance ombudsmen place on the anonymous-source issue and the lack of attention they direct to it presents an intriguing contrast. While public complaints may not focus ombudsmen’s attention on anonymous sources, reporters and editors may do well to take advantage of their ombudsmen’s wealth of experience and ideas. When reporters and editors struggle with decisions about anonymous sources, ombudsmen may be able to offer neutral advice. Newspapers and ombudsmen themselves may want to rethink the role of ombudsmen in dealing with ethical issues such as the use of anonymous sources. Ombudsmen can function as newsroom advisers and trainers, in addition to responding to complaints from readers. Such a role for ombudsmen may help journalists in addressing the can’t-live-with-them, can’t-live-without-them dilemmas that anonymous sources often present.

Notes

1. Although the terms anonymous source and confidential source are often used interchangeably in the trade press and research literature, this article makes a distinction. Sources are anonymous when they are unnamed or not fully identified in a news story. A condition of anonymity exists between the media organization and the public with regard to the source’s identity. A condition of confidentiality exists between a journalist/ media institution and a source when a journalist/media institution agrees not to reveal the source’s name. Such promises of confidentiality may present legal and/or ethical

dilemmas for the journalist/media organization. For a similar distinction, see David E. Boeyink, Anonymous Sources in News Stories: Justifying Exceptions and Limiting Abuses. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 1990, p. 244.

2. Hugh M. Culbertson, Leaks -A Dilemma for Editors as Well as Officials. Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1980, p. 402; Hugh M. Culbertson, Survey Shows Editors Divided on Handling Unnamed Sources. presstime, August 1980, p.25.

3. Alicia C. Shepard, Anonymous Sources. American Journalism Review, December 1994, p. 21.

4. Carl Hausman, Crisis of Conscience: Perspectives on Journalism Ethics. New York: Harper Collins,1992, p.136.

5. Ibid., pp. 136-137.

6. Culbertson, Leaks-A Dilemma, op. cit., p. 408.

7. Jacques Leslie, The Anonymous Source: Second Thoughts on “Deep Throat.” Washington Journalism Review, September 1986, pp. 33-35; Richard Scott Mowrer, The Press Is in Danger of Manipulation When It Quotes Anonymous Sources. presstime, June 1987, p. 74; National News Council, After “Jimmy’s World”: Tightening up in Editing. New York: National News Council, 1981; National News Council, Who Said That? New York: National News Council,1983; Kent Bernhard, A Serious Proposal: Let’s Ban All Use of Anonymous Sources for One Year. ASNE Bulletin, April 1987, pp. 3435; George Blake, Rebuilding Credibility: Banning Anonymous Sources Isa Start. Quill, April 1988, pp. 21-23; John Doe, Anonymity Isn’t So Bad. Quill, January 1986, pp. 2324; Deni Elliott, Thou Shalt Not Trick Thy Source. FineLine, July/August 1991, pp. 23; Mike Feinsilber, The Anonymous Source Has Become an Institution. presstime, July 1984, p.16; James J. Kilpatrick, “Trust-Me”Journalism: An Identifiable Source Is Fed Up. Washington Journalism Review, January-February 1988, pp. 43-45; Felix Winternitz, When Unnamed Sources are Blamed: Reporters ‘ Hands are Tied. Quill, October 1989, pp. 38-40; Frank Smyth, “Official Sources, ” “Western Diplomats, “and Other Voices from the Mission. Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 1993, p. 35; Herb Strentz, When is the Use of Anonymous Sources Permissible? Quill and Scroll, December/January 1989, pp. 8-9; Thomas Winship, Wiggins vs. the Others on Anonymous Quotes. Editor & Publisher, October 5,1991, pp. 7,36.

8. K. Tim Wulfemeyer, Use of Anonymous Sources in Journalism. Newspaper Research Journal, Winter 1983, pp. 46-47.

9. Jacqueline Sharkey, Offside on O.J. American Journalism Review, December 1994, p. 21.

10.111 S. Ct. 2513 (1991).

11. See, for example, Sigman L. Splichal and Matthew D. Bunker, Formalism, First Amendment Expression, and the General Law. Journal of Communication, Spring 1994, pp.136-143; Mark J. Parrell, Press/Confidential Source Relationships: Protecting Sources and the First Amendment. Communications and the Law, March 1993, pp. 4773; Laurence B. Alexander, Civil Liabilities for Journalists Who Violate Agreements of Confidentiality with Sources. Newspaper Research Journal, Summer/Fall 1993, pp. 45-59; Matthew D. Bunker and Sigman L. Splichal, Legally Enforceable Reporter-Source Agreements: Chilling Newsgathering at the Source? Journalism Quarterly, Winter 1993, pp. 939-946; Jeffry A. Brueggeman, Where Is the First Amendment When You Really Need It? Lowering the Constitutional Barrier to Suits Against the Press. Journal of Law & Politics, Fall 1992, pp.147-167; and Susan Allison Weifert, Cohen v. Cowles Media Co.: Bad News for Newsgatherers; Worse News for the Public. University of

California, Davis, Law Review,1991-92, pp.1099-1139. 12. Wulfemeyer, op. cit., p. 45.

13. Charles N. Davis, Susan D. Ross, and Paul H. Gates, Jr., How Newspaper Editors Feel about Confidential Sources in Wake of Cohen v. Cowles. Newspaper Research Journal, Summer/Fall 1996, p. 93.

14. Edmund B. Lambeth, Committed Journalism: An Ethic for the Profession, 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992, p.114.

15. Hugh M. Culbertson, Veiled News Sources-Who and What Are They?ANPA News Reserach Bulletin No. 3, May 14,1975, p. 3. Culbertson counted as veiled attributions both the use of unnamed personal sources and the use of information attributed to named organizations (such as the State Department), organizations identified more generally (such as police sail), media and related institutions (such as the New York Times reported), and countries (such as the United States said). Hugh M. Culbertson, Veiled Attribution: An Element of Style? Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1978, p. 459.

16. Culbertson, Veiled News Sources, op cit., p. 3.

17. Ibid., p. 460.

18. K. Tim Wulfemeyer, How and Why Anonymous Attribution is Used by Time and Newsweek. Journalism Quarterly, Spring 1985, p. 85. Wulfemeyer defined the use of an anonymous source as “attributing a direct or paraphrased quote to an unnamed individual or to an unnamed plural persons.” Ibid., p. 83. His Time and Newsweek data, therefore, cannot be compared directly with Culbertson’s because they used different definitions of anonymous sources.

19. Byron St. Dizier, Reporters’ Use of Confidential Sources, 1974 and 1984: A Comparative Study. Newspaper Research Journal, Summer 1985, p. 46. He noted that the 1974 study was conducted in the midst of Watergate when journalists’ use of anonymous sources drew much attention. The 1984 study was conducted relatively soon after the Janet Cooke incident, which emphasized the dangers of using anonymous sources.

20. K. Tim Wulfemeyer and Lori L. McFadden, Anonymous Attribution in Network News. Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1986, p. 471. Use of anonymous attribution was defined the same way as in Wulfemeyer’s Time and Newsweek study.

21. Ibid.

22. Wulfemeyer, How And Why Anonymous, op. cit., p. 85.

23. Bryan Denham, Anonymous Government Sources in the New York Times’ Coverage of the Middle East Peace Accords, the Conflict in Bosnia, and the Clinton Health Care Package. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Atlanta, Georgia, August 1994, p.11.

24. Ibid., pp. 14-15.

25. John W. Williams, Use of Anonymous Attribution: Comparison Across Newspapers, Comparison Across Issues. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington, D.C., August 1995, pp.11-12.

26. Daniel Riffe and Gail Johnson, Unnamed Sources in White House Coverage. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington, D.C., August 1995, p.14.

27. Virginia Dodge Fielder and David H. Weaver, Public Opinion on Investigative

Reporting. Newspaper Research Journal, January 1982, p. 58.

28. Associated Press Managing Editors, Journalists and Readers: Bridging the Credibility Gap. San Bernardino, California: Associated Press Managing Editors,1985, p. 31.

29. Hugh M. Culbertson and Nancy Somerick, Cloaked Attribution- What Does It Mean to News Readers? ANPA News Research Bulletin No.1, May 19,1976, p. 5. See also, Hugh M. Culbertson and Nancy Somerick, Variables Affect How Persons View Unnamed News Sources. Journalism Quarterly, Spring 1977, pp. 58-69.

30. Fred Fedler and Tim Counts, Variations in Attribution Affect Readers’ Evaluations of Stories. Newspaper Research Journal, April 1981, p. 29.

31. Ibid., p. 30.

32. F. Dennis Hale, Unnamed Sources: Their Impact on the Perceptions of Stories. Newspaper Research Journal, Winter 1984, p. 54.

33. Ibid., p. 55. See also John B. Adams, The Relative Credibility of 20 Unnamed News Sources. Journalism Quarterly, Winter 1962, pp. 79-82; John B. Adams, Unnamed Sources and the News: A Follow-up Study. Journalism Quarterly, Spring 1964, pp. 262-264; Daniel Rifle, Relative Credibility Revisited: How 18 Unnamed Sources Are Rated. Journalism Quarterly, Winter 1980, pp. 618-623.

34. Boeyink, op. cit., pp. 235-236.

35. William B. Blankenburg, The Utility of Anonymous Attribution. Newspaper Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1992, pp. 10-23.

36. Ibid., pp.19-21.

37. Boeyink, op.cit., pp. 236-243.

38. Richard Cunningham, Use of Anonymous Sources. Editor & Publisher, March 5, 1983, p. 36.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. Richard Cunningham, Ombudsman Losing Trust in “Sources.” Editor & Publisher, October 18, 1983, pp. 5,18.

42. Tony Case, Ombudsman Overboard? Editor & Publisher, May 25, 1996, p. 9.

43. Lori Robertson, A Public Debate Over Unnamed Sources. American Journalism Review, May 1997, p. 11.

44. The newspapers in the study were the Ann Arbor (Michigan) News, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Fort Wayne (Indiana) News-Sentinel, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot/LedgerStar, Quincy (Massachusetts) Patriot Ledger, Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, and Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal. Twenty-one reporters and editors and one attorney also were interviewed as part of the research project. The editors and reporters worked at the same newspapers as the ombudsmen, plus one additional newspaper, the Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal.

Wilson is assistant professor of communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Babcock is director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Pribek is a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.

Copyright E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Summer/Fall 1997

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