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Shafer Wants Tougher Anonymous Source Policies

When we had our Journalism and the Public: Restoring the Trust symposium on campus here at Kennesaw State University, I asked the audience how many agreed with this statement by Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today:

For more than 20 years, I’ve preached that anonymous sources are the root of evil in journalism…

It’s so simple. Most anonymous sources often tell more than they know. Reporters who are allowed to use such sources sometimes write more than they hear. Editors too often let them get away with it. Result: Fiction gets mixed with fact.

The only way to win the war against this evil is for journalists at all levels to ban all anonymous sources.

Until or unless we do, the public won’t trust us, and we put the First Amendment in jeopardy.

No one in the audience agreed with it. However, Jack Shafer, media columnist for Slate, comes close to agreeing with Neuharth.

Although Shafer would not ban them as Neuharth would, he writes in part:

…I’ve repeatedly inveighed against the use of anonymous sources and lectured about how they corrupt newspapers…

His column and comments were written in anticipation of today’s National Press Club panel discussion entitled “Confronting the Seduction of Secrecy: Toward Improved Access to Government Information on the Record.”

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