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Charlie Beckett

October 23rd, 2019

Anonymous sources: a political journalism lesson

0 comments | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Charlie Beckett

October 23rd, 2019

Anonymous sources: a political journalism lesson

0 comments | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Every week in UK politics throws up another editorial dilemma that provides grist to my teaching mill.

It makes my job teaching journalism to an international group of post-graduate students at LSE a lot easier. This week we’ll be talking about anonymous sources after my lecture about the history of spin.

Sometimes sources have to be anonymised to protect their identity if they are leaking information in the public interest and their career might be compromised, for example. In the rush of the 24/7 news cycle ‘guidance’ and ‘background’ can be helpful for journalists trying to cut through the formulaic public responses of politicians.

But it has now become routinised. And during the frantic Brexit debate where major moves happen every hour or day, this matters. Is this just a convenient way to convey ‘insider’ thinking or just a lazy way for journalists to be manipulated?

Brexit is stirring a debate about spin

This article explains how three UK spin doctors have been feeding information (some of which turns out to be ‘questionable’) to political journalists:

Here is another article with more cases that says this is creating ‘fake news’:

And here is a response from a leading UK political editor:

Here is a handy list of questions from the Guardian’s media/tech reporter Alex Hern that journalists should ask before using anonymous sources:

  • Has this source been contradicted on the record before?
  • Does this source have a history of accurately stating the future actions of the executive?
  • Would this source refuse to speak if you refused to grant them anonymity?
  • Is the quote from this source worth granting anonymity?

 

I’m looking forward to hearing what my students have to say, any further cases or perspectives welcome!

This article by Professor Charlie Beckett @CharlieBeckett

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Charlie Beckett

Posted In: Director's Commentary | Featured | Journalism | Politics

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