This month marks the tenth anniversary of USA Today’s anonymous source scandal, a formative landmark in journalism sourcing: back in 2004, foreign correspondent Jack Kelley was forced to resign after he invented a witness to corroborate an unverifiable account. The saga provoked widespread changes in the USAT newsroom and elsewhere, specifically including the creation of a standards and development editor as a sort of “integrity coach,” as well as new regulations moving forward: whereas reporters once only had to inform a direct supervisor of an unnamed source’s identity, after the Kelley debacle a managing editor or an even higher ranking editor would also be required to sign off on the sourcing. Moreover, further stipulations were added in the years that followed.
We could probably all agree that the most famous anonymous informant is Deep Throat of Watergate renown. His whistleblowing would help enshrine the role of the anonymous source in heroism and integrity, at least in the eyes of some. Of course, not all uses and intents behind this kind of sourcing are to be trusted, which is why we revisit and must continue to revisit our newsroom methods in this sensitive area of journalism.
What are your outlet’s rules on anonymous sources? Ten years later, have these rules changed alongside the volatile landscape of today’s media? Let’s commemorate this decade’s worth of ethical evolution by coming together for another #MuckedUp tweetchat this Tuesday, June 24, at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST. Until then, please email or tweet me any other potential questions that you’d like to pursue!