Tracking the Anonymice
See how they run in the Post, the Timeses, and the Journal.
Jack Shafer chatted online with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
My standards aren't really that different from the ones followed by the New York Timesor the Los Angeles Times. The problem always comes in applying those standards. I had a good chuckle when I discovered in the course of my newspaper analysis that the Wall Street Journal, which has no written, public standards for the use of anonymous sources, is the most reluctant of the four big dailies to cite anonymice. Maybe there's a lesson there. [Addendum, July 16: Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review explains where the Journal anonymice hide and why I didn't detected them. See also Zubin Jelveh's sharp take in Portfolio. Thanks to their criticism, I'll file a follow-up column on July 18.]
Readers who have normalized the swarms of anonymice inhabiting their newspapers—to the point of reading right past them—should unnormalize them. One way is to shriek "ANONYMOUS!" every time you see one. Another is to join me in tracking them by using the Web form at the bottom of this article. Whenever you see an anonymouse in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, complete the Web form and click "submit." I'll judge and edit the contributions, then merge them into our master spreadsheet. Contributors whose work is used will be credited in future spreadsheets.
And, no, we won't be accepting any anonymous contributions.
Reporters who believe they've been unfairly castigated in the Anonymice spreadsheet may complain by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll add the comments in the spreadsheet. And, yes, all correspondence must be on the record. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word spreadsheet in the subject head of an e-mail message and send it to email@example.com.