Anonymous sources are among the thorniest issues in journalism. Whether to use them? How to use them? What they do to the public’s perception of the credibility of news organizations? They’re a constant topic of conversation in journalism circles.

We decided at Civil Beat that the best approach, given our commitment to transparency, would be to publish our policy on anonymous sources and link to it whenever we use them.

It’s important to state that we generally only use information on the record, which means the attribution is clear so you know where we got it and the source’s name.

But sometimes that’s impossible. We believe that anonymous sources are sometimes necessary when they’re the only way we can obtain important information. We only use them, though, when we believe they are critical to the public interest.

Three important guidelines we consider before deciding to grant anonymity are:

  1. The material must be information, not opinion or speculation.
  2. The information is only available under the condition of anonymity for the source.
  3. The source is reliable and has direct knowledge of the information.

We always try to confirm information by seeking multiple sources. We decide to grant anonymity because we believe the person has a justifiable reason not to speak on the record.

We also ensure that the reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source and that the use of anonymity has been approved by a senior editor.

Anonymous sources must be used carefully. The decision is in our sole judgment. To retain your trust, we believe we must explain why we granted anonymity. It’s not enough for us that somebody might ask for anonymity.

We hope this helps you understand our approach. Questions about it? Please email us at

What stories will you help make possible?

Since 2010, Civil Beat’s reporting has painted a more complete picture of Hawaii — stories that you won’t find anywhere else.

Your donation, however big or small, will ensure that Civil Beat has the resources to provide you with thorough, unbiased reporting on the issues that matter most to Hawaii. We can’t do this without you.