• WaPo ombudsman Andrew Alexander tackled the casual use of anonymous sources in yesterday’s paper. He says anonymous sources are critical to newsgathering and the paper has strict rules on the use of anonymous sources, but “some of those lofty standards are routinely ignored.”
For example, Post policies say that editors have an “obligation” to know the identity of a reporter’s unnamed sources so they can “jointly assess” whether they should be used. “The source of anything that appears in the paper will be known to at least one editor,” the stylebook says.
But of nearly 30 Post reporters questioned recently about their use of anonymous sources, roughly two-thirds said that editors never or rarely ask to know the identity.
Also, roughly half of the reporters were confused about the basic ground rules for dealing with sources. Most knew that information obtained “on background” could be used without naming the source (example: “a high-level State Department official”). But many wrongly believed that allowing a source to speak “off the record” meant the information could be used. To the contrary, Post rules say: “By our definition, off-the-record information cannot be used, either in the paper or in further reporting.” If Post reporters are confused, chances are it’s not clear to their sources.
The Post also is inconsistent in how it describes unnamed sources and the reasons they were granted anonymity. Post policies say that readers should be told as much as possible about the quality of a confidential source (“with first-hand knowledge of the case,” for instance). They also say “we must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence.”
We’re sure this isn’t just the case at the Post. Read Alexander in his entirety here.
• WaPo informed staffers that the paper is discontinuing its Matching Gifts Program, Politico reports. A WaPo memo via Politico: “Post and Digital employees have donated a grand total of $2,083,811.00 to numerous nonprofit organizations in the metropolitan Washington, DC area through the Matching Gifts Program.”