Here is how to identify the source in a ‘hit piece’ on someone: read the entire article and see if someone (most often a competitor or a disgruntled employee) is praised or there is a flowery adjective about a particular person. That praised person is often the source in the hit piece and the praise is the payback by the reporter for the comment or story. Here is another way to identify the anonymous source in an article: the same sources leak to the same reporters. Of course the mere fact that any criticism is anonymous should make you wonder about the truth. You need corroboration.
Anonymous sources are important in journalism but should be used infrequently — usually in case of national security or to protect whistle blowers where there is a risk to the source but the information is important. Criticism or snarky comments is not something so important that it should be reported and not sourced. There is a difference between information reported anonymously and someone taking a slap at someone anonymously.
All anonymous information should be worked hard for corroboration and you should scrutinize it before you accept it as fact. One consideration is who is reporting it — is it a reporter you trust? who has given you truthful information in the past? has a history of good sources?
The use of anonymous sources has become a steady diet for some reporters peddling in gossip.
So now your turn…what do you think? Do journalists overuse anonymous sources and do so for the wrong reason? This post your chance to sound off on journalism…