Bloomberg News may finally be admitting defeat in its war on anonymous sourcing.
The news organization, which has long taken pride in its refusal to regularly grant anonymity to sources, announced earlier this month that it was tapping Time’s Mark Halperin and New York magazine’s John Heilemann to helm a new politics website. The men are best known for their pair of bestselling campaign books, Game Change and Double Down, which are filled with buzzy political news based entirely on unattributed interviews with unnamed sources.
The books have made Halperin and Heilemann two of the most high-profile political scribes in the country — and reportedly helped fetch them each million-dollar salaries at Bloomberg — but their reporting methods seem squarely at odds with their new employer’s high-minded rules.
In The Bloomberg Way, the company’s reporting guide, journalists are strongly discouraged from relying on unnamed sources, and forbidden from publishing direct quotes without on-the-record attribution.
“It’s a rare occasion when an anonymously sourced story rises to the quality of our best work,” it reads. The reporting guide also states that exceptions to the rule must be approved by the editor-in-chief as well as two executive editors, or managing editors — and all of them must be informed of the sources’ identities.
The policy has been the source of some newsroom controversy over the years. In late 2009, after the company bought BusinessWeek, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler issued a chiding memo taking the magazine to task for failing to live up to the news organization’s standards.
“We shun anonymous quotations and assertions that are negative because readers have no proof that they are more credible than hearsay. In an age when news increasingly is asserted, we must be fact-driven,” Winkler wrote at the time. The memo was promptly leaked to Gawker.
But in politics, perhaps more than most beats, anonymous sourcing has been accepted by reporters and sources as the cost of doing business, and some of the most revealing political stories every day (including those on BuzzFeed) include quotes from unnamed officials.
A spokesman for Bloomberg declined to comment for this story, but there are signs that the company has been easing up on its policy lately. A quick search of the website reveals at least four stories that cite sources “who asked not to be identified.”