While we try our best to avoid including anonymous sources in our stories, occasionally there’s no getting around it. Still, there are certain actions journalists can take to assure their readers that the coverage is honest and reliable. The AP Stylebook spends some time going over these measures:
- First and foremost, make sure the information is fact, not opinion or speculation. Consider if the information is absolutely critical for the story.
- Ask yourself if there is a way to get this same information another way, without resorting to anonymity? Perhaps there is another source you can speak to, or a record you can look up.
- Check to make sure the source is reliable. If they say they are from a certain company or organization, call and confirm their employment, membership, etc. You want to be certain that this person is in a position to have this information.
- Talk to your editor or news manager. Have their approval to use an anonymous source.
- Describe to your readers the reason for anonymity. Be as thorough as possible while respecting your source’s privacy or safety concerns.
- Lastly, as the AP Stylebook directs: “The story must also provide attribution that establishes a source’s credibility.” Don’t just say, “a source confirms.” You’ll often find this kind of language in tabloids, but it has no place in the news. Words like official often suffice.