Introduction to Sources:

Sources are an important part of writing a story. Sources help journalists gain knowledge about events, people, places and trends. Sourcing information also helps journalists build trust with the public. Journalists do not have a right to protect their sources in the way that lawyers or doctors have rights to protect patient or client information, however there are still steps that reporters take to keep their sources safe. Advertisers also use sources for customer testimonies and other uses of outside, expert information about a product. Public relations professionals often act as sources for reporters, which makes it important for them to understand the relationship between sources and journalists.

Case Study 1

In possibly the most famous case of anonymous sourcing, Deep Throat was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, the second in command of the F.B.I. at the time of the Watergate investigation. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used information given to them by Felt to write a series of stories connecting President Nixon to the break-in at the Democratic offices in the Watergate hotel.

Case Study 2

Two sports reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle used an anonymous source who leaked testimony from a grand jury investigation for the use of steroids. The source, however, was using the reporters to have the case thrown out because information had been leaked to the press.

Possible Classroom Activities:

Students can break into groups and discuss the use of anonymous sources. Have the students write out a pros-and-cons list for using or protecting anonymous sources.

New York Magazine: Why Journalism Needs Anonymous Sources

Kurt Andersen outlines why journalists use anonymous sources and the purpose they serve in journalism.

Newsweek: Beyond Deep Throat

Newsweek highlights the other anonymous sources that feed information to Woodward and Bernstein during their investigation of Watergate. There were many sources, besides Deep Throat, that helped the reporters uncover the conspiracy.

SPJ When Sources Won't Talk

The Society of Professional Journalists offers some advice for testing the validity of the information sources give reporters, and what to do in the event of sources refusing to speak with journalists. They present the information in the form of a case study about a student newspaper and a source complaining about a sorority and fraternity party.