Not getting into Twitter sources, anonymous sources can be great for sensitive stories. Whistleblowers would not be so forthcoming if they knew they would be named.
But as BuzzFeed has proved, one anonymous source does not merit a story, especially around a tricky topic. Basically, they published a story that challenged the accusations made by Michael Moore on Twitter that an Oscar nominated director was held at LAX for an hour and a half, with an anonymous LAX source challenging that, saying it was standard procedure and only lasted around 25 minutes.
The whole thing lead to a clash between Moore, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, a few other new sites and BuzzFeed. Apparently, the anonymous source allows for wrong-doing to be covered up.
This kind of reporting is becoming more common place though. In a world of digital first you never know when someone else might scoop your story. This means organisations run with what they have, as they have it.
Reporting in this manner can work wonders on less investigative pieces and allow for stories to develop naturally over time. Natural disasters and even the Twitter court reporting of Oscar Pistorius are examples of this in play.
That being said, this story was neither. The topic was quite political and could have easily been followed up with a few more sources. Having a named source would have really added some credibility and depth to the story. Even just a named eye witness would have added something.
With the speed that news can travel though, this is something that needs to be balanced. Just how long do you hold onto a story before you risk losing it? It is something that Sunday papers have been battling with for quite some time.
When a story like this comes to you, sure, write it up straight away so it is ready to go at the click of a button, but you don’t have to publish it straight away. Do some more fact checking, sourcing, and see how you can strengthen it.
If you feel someone hot on your heels you can always publish with one click, but double sourcing, and getting a named source, can be the difference between your story being challenged and it being a strong piece of journalism.
What do you think? Should one anonymous source be enough? Should BuzzFeed have hung on? Have you ever battled with time over sourcing? Tweet us @wannabehacks.