New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan says that the paper will crack down on the use of anonymous sources after two front-page errors in the last six months.
The new policy does not ban anonymity, but is intended to reduce what deputy executive editor Matt Purdy feels is an “overreliance on unnamed sources,” according to Sullivan.
The Times’ top editors sent an email to the newsroom staff this morning detailing the changes. An excerpt follows:
At best, granting anonymity allows us to reveal the atrocities of terror groups, government abuses or other situations where sources may risk their lives, freedom or careers by talking to us. In sensitive areas like national security reporting, it can be unavoidable. But in other cases, readers question whether anonymity allows unnamed people to skew a story in favor of their own agenda. In rare cases, we have published information from anonymous sources without enough questions or skepticism – and it has turned out to be wrong.
The new policy requires a top editor to review and sign off on articles that depend primarily on information from unnamed sources. The desk head must approve other use of anonymous sources.
“This is a sensible, moderate and necessary plan. The devil, of course, is in the enforcement. The Times often has not done an effective job of carrying out the policy it already has, one element of which states that anonymous sources may be used only as ‘a last resort,'” Sullivan wrote.