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This article critically examines the practice of unnamed sourcing in journalism. A literature review highlights arguments in favor of and against their use. Then, 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 then 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.


This is an electronic version of an article published in The Journal of Mass Media Ethics Vol. 26 Iss. 4, 2011, pp. 297-315. The Journal of Mass Media Ethics is available online at:

The preprint, or the author's version before peer-review, is available below in "Additional Files."

Preprint Anonymous Sources.pdf (428 kB)
This is a preprint of an article submitted for consideration in The Journal of Mass Media Ethics © 2011 Taylor & Francis; The Journal of Mass Media Ethics is available: