Unnamed Sources: A Utilitarian Exploration of their Justification and Guidelines for Limited Use

by Matt J. Duffy, Carrie P. Freeman
Journal of Mass Media Ethics ()


This article critically examines the practice of unnamed sourcing in journalism. A literature review highlights arguments in favor of and against their use. The authors examine some common examples of anonymous sourcing using the lens of utilitarianism, the ethical model commonly used to justify the practice. We find that few uses of unnamed sourcing can be justified when weighed against diminished credibility and threats to fair, transparent reporting. The authors suggest specific guidelines for journalists that, if followed, would curb many of the pedestrian uses of unnamed sourcing but still allow for the practice in specific circumstances.

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