"I Wish to Remain Anonymous"

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From Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

 

“The public is particularly upset when it thinks the press is providing cover so someone can make an anonymous personal attack on another individual” (21).

 

I was wondering why one of the Associated Press’s rules is “The material [quoted in a story] must be information and not opinion, and not speculation, and it must be essential to the story” (21). I was thinking what if a person wanted to say something against someone who could make his life heck if that person wanted to?  Obviously, that person would not want to put his neck on the line for your story and it would be wrong for you to publish it.  But also, what if that person is lying?  He could use your newspaper to try to defame a person secretly.  If you suspect that person’s opinion to be true and newsworthy, then follow it up.  Try to get someone to go on record with that opinion or go straight to the source like Haiman’s example about Maureen Reagan being her father’s campaign manager.   An anonymous source tipped the reporter off that this might be true and the reporter ended up being able to confirm the information when (s)he was lucky enough to run into Maureen Reagan herself (20).

 

So the basic lesson that I learned from this is if I ever get a source that wishes to remain anonymous yet the information that person gives me is newsworthy, I can either try to persuade that person to let me attach their name to that quote or use the tip as a stepping stone to a better source.  How hard could that be?  Ha ha.

 

See what others learned.

5 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Lol, it could end up being very difficult, maybe even impossible in some cases (particularly very controversial ones) to get someone who is willing to have their name attached to the quote. I think that’s probably why there are exceptions to using anonymous sources. Granted, there are very few instances where you can use an unnamed source, but sometimes, it’s probably just impossible to find someone willing to take credit for the quote. In these cases you have to give as much information about the person as possible so the readers know why this person is credible and what biases they might have. One way to find someone who might be willing to take credit for the quote though is to ask the source who doesn’t want to be named. Ask them if they know anyone who would be willing to take credit for it, if they aren’t.

Wendy Scott said:

Greta your right it could be quite difficult to get someone to let you publish there name. Though couldn't you say a member of blank organization, or something? Without stating there name I think Greta is right its just a descriptive part of source identifying, or maybe researching further surrounding people to interview that may take credit on a answer to your topic. Good post this is when news writing can get tricky even though we try to avoid.

Josie Rush said:

I'm glad you included that example from Haiman in this entry, Angela. I thought that was a really good illustration of how it pays to do some footwork.
Greta, you make a good point: It's sometimes going to be next-to-impossible to find someone who is willing to take credit for a quote, and this is why they have those exceptions. Though, you can almost hear the author groaning as he lists them "If you absolutley, positively have to use an anonymous source..." lol.

Jennifer Prex said:

I guess this is another one of those cases of "when in doubt, leave it out." It definitely seems like it's best to do as Haiman suggested and follow up any anonymous information to make sure it's accurate, especially if it has to remain anonymous. It's better to make sure the information is true before publishing it than publishing it only to find out the anonymous source was either misinformed or lying.

Greta Carroll said:

I think what Jenn highlighted is important. Yes, we should try to get a source that is willing to be named. However, as I mentioned above, sometimes that will be impossible. In these cases, it comes down to doing our best to describe that person’s reason for being a valid source and also by giving some background to make clear what biases they might have (ex. “White House staffer….”) and double-checking to absolutely make sure what this person says is right.

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