Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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A scolding for the NYT on anonymous source abuse

NYT public editor Clark Hoyt yips at the paper for a number of instances in recent weeks where anonymous sources were improperly used.

From the NYT:

I have received complaints about recent articles in which unnamed sources were allowed to 1) accuse a real estate agent of racial discrimination, 2) provide a letter from a dead man in the midst of a political controversy, and 3) discuss the press strategy of a politician who seeks to manipulate reporters with, among other tactics, off-the-record phone calls.

Despite written ground rules to the contrary and promises by top editors to do better, The Times continues to use anonymous sources for information available elsewhere on the record. It allows unnamed people to provide quotes of marginal news value and to remain hidden with little real explanation of their motives, their reliability, or the reasons why they must be anonymous.

Hoyt developed his critique in some detail before closing with this:

… Here is why all of this matters:

John Albin of Manhattan objected to an article late last month providing new details about Governor Paterson’s involvement in efforts to pressure a woman involved in a domestic dispute with one of his top aides. The article said the governor helped draft a proposed statement for the woman in which she would say there had been no violence in the episode, a contradiction of what she told the police. “Three people with knowledge of the governor’s role” were the sources.

Albin said The Times “should not be hiding behind blind quotes when it comes to accusations that are this serious.” I understand his frustration, but respectfully do not agree. Joe Sexton, the metro editor, said anonymous sources were the only way The Times could get the vital story of this scandal. The paper’s reporting has proved true at every turn — prompting high-level resignations, the end of Paterson’s election campaign and a criminal investigation.

Sexton said he realized it “can take something of a leap of faith for some readers to be comfortable” with anonymous sources in such articles. That leap would be easier if The Times did not squander readers’ trust by using unnamed sources so often and so casually in far less compelling cases.

Sun, April 18 2010 » Main Page, Media