Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dissecting the anonymice…

Jack Shafer, in Slate.com, introduces us to the term “anonymice” with a colorful metaphor:

“Like insatiable vermin eating and rutting their way through a bulging grain elevator, anonymice continue to multiply in the pages of the top dailies. This proliferation comes despite the public promises made by some newspapers to stamp out—or at least reduce—the number of anonymous sources quoted.”

Shafer points out that last year, for instance, the New York Times and the Washington Post amended their anonymous source guidelines with tighter, more restrictive language. "The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy," asserts the Times policy. "We must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence. Our obligation is to serve readers, not sources," reads the Post's.

Yet not long after the Times reformulated its policy, Daniel Okrent, the paper's public editor, charted an increase in the number of anonymice in the paper. Erik Wemple of Washington City Paper documented a similar explosion of unnamed sources at the Post following its new edict.

Journalists traditionally defend anonymous sourcing with vague assurances that blind comments 1) provide readers with valuable news unobtainable by any other means or 2) give the public a deeper understanding of the issues of day. In Shafer's words "But for all the promises of red meat, newspapers mostly serve hair balls."

Before a lengthy list of examples, Shafer asks us to scan the excerpts and ask ourselves “ How newsworthy are the anonymous comments? My quick reading? Not very. Then why do newspapers fill themselves with the vapid mouthings of "senior administration officials" every time the president or the secretary of state goes on tour?

Check the article and give us your opinion.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


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