Three newspaper ombuds. Three recent columns. Below are excerpts from the work of the following reader representatives: Siobhan Butterworth of the (UK) Guardian, Andrew Alexander of the Washington Post, and Clark Hoyt of New York Times. Can you match the newspaper to the journalistic offense in question?
Readers complain to me constantly about anonymous sources in [this newspaper], and I see them sometimes used in ways that seem too casual, in violation of the paper’s own high standards. Top editors say they are trying to instill vigilance.
[S]tories containing the phrase “spoke on condition of anonymity” have appeared about 160 times this year. Anonymous sources are too prevalent in political and government stories, where reporters need to push back against lawmakers and bureaucrats who have come to expect anonymity.
And, excerpt three:
I threatened a couple of weeks ago to write about the first ever appearance of the C-word on the front page of [this newspaper]. It would be rude not to. A line has been crossed. What conclusions should we draw from readers’ responses to it? There were relatively few objections – around 15…
… [the] C-word has cropped up in 61 items [this year]….[This newspaper’s] editorial code says: “There is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.”
Yes, that last one is from the Guardian’s Butterworth, writing about her newspaper using “the C-word,” all spelled out, in a front-page story about a TV show host’s “not-for-broadcast remarks about the prime minister to a…studio audience.”
The second excerpt is from the Post’s Alexander, who reports
[O]f 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…[M]any 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.
And excerpt number one is courtesy of the Times’s Hoyt, who illustrates for readers What’s The Matter With All This Anonymous Sourcing with… a Michael Jackson-related reporting example. (The second half of Hoyt’s column takes on the sourcing of that technology-before-loo-and-coffee Times “trend” story from last week.)