Guidelines on Use of Unnamed Sources

Adopted May 8, 2018, by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Board of Directors

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s newsroom guidelines on use of unnamed sources are based on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, approved in 1996, and adopted in full by the Center in 2009; and guidelines publicly shared by The New York Times in July 2016.

The Center’s guidelines on use of unnamed sources:

— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.

— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

— Any use of anonymous sourcing must be specifically approved by a top editor such as the managing editor or executive director.

— Direct quotes from anonymous sources should be used rarely, and only when such quotes are pivotal to the story.

— At least one editor must know the specific identity of any anonymous source. This in no way reflects a lack of trust between editor and reporter; it’s just a regular part of our diligence in this sensitive area. The reporter should routinely offer this information, or the story editor should ask.