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Less than 30 minutes
  • Journalism
  • Politics
  • 6-12
  • College/University

  1. Tell students that unnamed sources have been used to crack many big stories throughout our nation’s history. However, an unnamed source cannot always be counted on for complete accuracy. Today, they will learn how to evaluate a story’s credibility by looking at information from unnamed sources.
  2. Check for background knowledge by asking:
    • Where do journalists get the information they use in their news stories?
    • What does anonymous mean? When might an individual want to remain anonymous?
  3. Explain that as they watch the video, students will look at the ethical guidelines journalists attempt to follow. Hand out copies of the viewing worksheet. Instruct students to read the questions ahead of time and to take notes as they watch the video.
  4. Watch the video.
  5. Ask students to complete the post-video comprehension questions (in class or for homework).

  • “Sources” Video Lesson worksheet (download), one per student
  • Internet access to watch “Sources” video
  • “Sources" Reference Material handout (download, optional)

You may wish to assign one or more of these questions as short essays for homework.

  • The video’s narration describes USA TODAY’s policy on when to use anonymous sources like this: “Reporters can use them, but they need to explain to editors why the information is important to the story and why the information can’t be obtained on the record.” What do you think of these rules? Do they provide enough guidance? If you were an editor, what kind of explanations would you accept for 1) why an unnamed source’s information is important to a story and 2) why it can’t be obtained in other ways?
  • Unnamed sources are just one way that journalists get information. Where else do journalists get the information they use in their stories? Consider two examples: a story about a school board meeting and a story about a car accident. In each case, where would journalists get the information needed for their reports? Of the sources you list, which do you think is the most reliable? Why? Which is the least reliable? Why?
  • How should journalists judge the reliability of an unnamed source? What should the criteria be for deciding if you trust someone or not?
  • In the video, Geneva Overholser says, "Give us some information so we can judge it. Way too often we just said, 'said a reliable source,' [or] 'said someone close to the White House.'" Do you agree with Overholser’s position that journalists should give more information on the unnamed sources they use? If journalists use unnamed sources, how should they describe them? How much information should they give? What should this information be?
  • Freedom of the press means the government does not dictate how the press operates. It’s left to members of the news media to set standards for good journalism. What do you think those standards should be?
  • What does “good” journalism look like? Make a list of the qualities you would like to see in the news you consume. Define each quality. (For example: sources of information are clear — gives details on where facts were found.)


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