Reporters are directed to try to be sure that sources have a compelling reason for keeping their identities secret. They should be identified in stories as precisely as possible to reveal potential biases, the guidelines suggest.
Although it does not refer to the recent case in which Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper had his e-mails turned over to a federal prosecutor, the directive warns Los Angeles Times reporters to be "extremely circumspect about how and where they store information that might identify an anonymous source."
Kelly McBride, head of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based school for professional journalists, praised The Times' guidelines for recognizing "the new complexity reporters are faced with in reporting with anonymous sources."
But she said many newspapers had found that the use of unnamed sources was "a habit that's really hard to break."
Newspapers that adhere to strict rules have to be prepared, at times, to be scooped by publications that are less restrictive of using information from unnamed sources, McBride said.
The guidelines go further than those of other newspapers to promote precise writing, McBride said — an acknowledgment that stories with a tone or point of view unjustified by the facts lose credibility with readers.
The guidelines urge Times writers, for example, not to use superlatives such as "biggest," "worst" and "most" unless the terms can be proved.
"We live and work in a media environment suffused with hyperbole," the standards say. "It is The Times' intention to stand distinctly apart from that world and speak straightforwardly to readers."
In a note to his employees introducing the new guidelines, Carroll noted that "misbehavior" by Jayson Blair of the New York Times and Jack Kelley of USA Today (who fabricated information in some of their stories) was known by some of their co-workers but "not passed along with due emphasis to the senior editors."
The lesson, although sometimes difficult, Carroll said, is that "each of us is duty-bound to speak up about anything that threatens the paper's integrity."