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Explore: Anonymous sources, the role of a journalist, media ethics, reporting challenges, media credibility, journalism, freedom of the press.

Critics say anonymous sources undermine credibility. Defenders say whistle-blowers would not come forward without the protection of anonymity. Journalists Ken Paulson, Ben Bradlee, Michael Isikoff, Evan Thomas and Geneva Overholser take a critical look at the use of anonymous sources and the impact they have on the public's perception of the news media.


This video and viewing guide examine the sources that journalists use when reporting the news. At times, journalists use anonymous, or unnamed, sources in order to obtain information vital to a story. Unnamed sources have been used to crack many big stories throughout our nation's history. However, an unnamed source cannot always be counted on for complete accuracy. While journalists do all they can to verify the information from these unnamed sources, sometimes they get it wrong.

This unit will look at important news stories that relied on anonymous sources — some of whom provided accurate information, and some who didn't — and explore the possible consequences of getting it wrong. The topic of unnamed sources provides a window to study the ethical guidelines journalists attempt to follow and why the news media sometimes fall short of accurate reporting.

Learn more about our roles as news consumers in weighing information from unnamed sources and navigating a diverse media landscape.

Recommended grade levels: Middle school through college

Essential Questions:

  • Where do reporters get the information they report?
  • What is an anonymous (unnamed) source? Why do journalists use them? What are the pros and cons of using unnamed sources?
  • How does freedom of the press function in today's society?
  • Should the news media follow ethical guidelines? Which guidelines, and why?
  • What is our role as news consumers?