On the Use of Anonymous Sources

May 23, 2017

Anonymous sources have played a big role in the flurry of reporting and rapid-fire revelations surrounding the Trump administrations and investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

During this River to River conversation, host Ben Kieffer talks with Steve Berry, who is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Iowa, as well as Kathleen Richardson, who is Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Drake University about why anonymous sources are used, and how journalists should handle the information they are given from sources who wish to remain anonymous.

"You need to explain to the readers why a source has to be anonymous, and you also have to explain to the reader that the source you used was in a position to know about what they are being quoted about," says Berry.  

During this conversation, Kieffer also talks with Richardson about how media consumers should view this kind of reporting. She says it's important to look at the context in which an anonymous source is used. 

"I think that most readers or news consumers probably don't recognize or know that the use of anonymous sources varies from publication to publication and even from one part of the country to another. News coverage that we're talking about here -- that's coming out of Washington, those kinds of organizations are much more likely to use anonymous sources and even sometimes have different rules that journalists in Des Moines or in the rest of the country," Richardson says. 

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In the first half of this program, Kieffer talks with Matt DeLissi, who is a sociology professor at Iowa State University and David Linkletter, who is a special agent for the State Fire Marshall Division of the Iowa Department of Public Safety about the mindset of an arsonist in the wake of the death of two teenage girls who died in a fire in Guthrie Center.