We should never deliberately mislead in our sourcing, quote a source saying one thing on the record and something contradictory on background, or cite sources in the plural when we have only one.
Anonymous sources are the weakest sources. All journalists should be familiar with the detailed guidance in The Essentials of Reuters sourcing.
Here are some handy tips:
• Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information they provide, even though we remain liable for accuracy, balance and legal dangers. Press your sources to go on the record.
• Reuters will use unnamed sources where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record. We alone are responsible for the accuracy of such information.
• When talking to sources, always make sure the ground rules are clear. Take notes and record interviews.
• Cross-check information wherever possible. Two or more sources are better than one. In assessing information from unnamed sources, weigh the source’s track record, position and motive. Use your common sense. If it sounds wrong, check further.
• Talk to sources on all sides of a deal, dispute, negotiation or conflict.
• Be honest in sourcing and in obtaining information. Give as much context and detail as you can about sources, whether named or anonymous, to authenticate information they provide. Be explicit about what you don’t know.
• Reuters will publish news from a single, anonymous source in exceptional cases, when it is credible information from a trusted source with direct knowledge of the situation. Single-source stories are subject to a special authorisation procedure.
• A source’s compact is with Reuters, not with the reporter. If asked on legitimate editorial grounds, you are expected to disclose your source to your supervisor. Protecting the confidentiality of sources, by both the reporter and supervisor, is paramount.
• When doing initiative reporting, try to disprove as well as prove your story.
• Accuracy always comes first. It’s better to be late than wrong. Before pushing the button, think how you would withstand a challenge or a denial.
• Know your sources well. Consider carefully if the person you are communicating with is an imposter. Sources can provide information by whatever means available – telephone, in person, email, instant messaging, text message. But be aware that any communication can be interfered with.
• Reuters will stand by a reporter who has followed the sourcing guidelines and the proper approval procedures.
Quotes are sacrosanct. They must never be altered other than to delete a redundant word or clause, and then only if the deletion does not alter the sense of the quote in any way. Selective use of quotes can be unbalanced.
Be sure that quotes you use are representative of what the speaker is saying and that you describe body language (a smile or a wink) that may affect the sense of what is being reported.
When quoting an individual always give the context or circumstances of the quote.