‘New York Times’ To Distribute New ‘Credibility’ Document This Week

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By: E&P Staff

In the coming week, staffers at The New York Times will receive a statement called “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust” covering bias, sourcing, and communicating with readers, among other subjects. It was prepared by a committee of reporters and editors led by assistant managing editor Allan M. Siegal.

Writing about the document in his Sunday column, outgoing Public Editor Dan Okrent reveals that staff members ?will be invited to comment, and then executive editor Bill Keller will determine which recommendations to adopt, adapt or dismiss.?

While he hasn?t seen the document, Okrent predicts that ?that those having to do with anonymous sources will be the most controversial among the reporting staff.?

In fact, he says, use of anonymous sources has been the substantive issue raised most often by readers since he took the job. And that’s why what has become known as the “the credibility committee” was formed.

In step with this, as E&P revealed last week, Phil Taubman, the paper?s Washington bureau chief, joined a group of other Washington regulars attempting to reduce the number of background briefings.

Yet Okrent reports that there has been only slow progress in the Times? current attempt to stem the flood of anonymous sourcing. In March 2004, management issued a revised policy on anonymous sources that called for more restraint and more explanation of the nature of the unnamed sources. More than a year later, Okrent asked an outside researcher to examine one week of Times? stories in April.

He found that the number of anonymous sources in the paper was down 24 percent, but the percentage of stories citing unnamed sources barely slipped, from 51 percent to 47 percent. Okrent observed that 46% of the anonymous sources ?were identified only as ?officials? or ?aides.??

He concluded the column by noting that ?the credibility issue is growing old.?

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