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A guide to utilizing anonymous sources with The Doe

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Anonymous sources can be some of the best places to get insider information, core story plots and sometimes just an important tipoff. No matter the value of the information or the amount it is essential that request for anonymity be respected and handled with great care. Take The Doe, for example, rooted in honesty, executed through anonymity – this news website is growing at a notable rate thanks to it’s honest journalism that gets right to the heart of the story without bias. They use anonymous sources for each of their stories and have provided us with details on the best ways for other papers and outlets to do so.

Should you use anonymous sources?

This is a tough question to answer in black and white. Some media sources are perfectly fine with using these sources, while others maintain that anonymity has no place in journalism and never use anonymous sources in their work. Then, some will allow them but only on very strict conditions.

For the most part, sources who choose to speak on the record are always the best sources of information to go with. Nevertheless, you will not always get a choice in these matters. Many of the best stories would never have been published if the journalists had not honored their sources request for anonymity.

Why use anonymous sources?

  • To get a story covered if there are no on-record sources.
  • To protect the identity and well-being of your source. Many sources risk being fired, ostracized and marginalized by speaking to the press.
  • To protect your relationship with your sources.
  • When used properly, anonymous sources can be very important to your story.

Why is it better to use named sources than anonymous sources?

  • Named sources provide credibility to your story like an eyewitness.
  • Named sources are more likely to tell the truth as their credibility is on the line.
  • They are probably not going to change their story later.
  • The journalist also appears to perform more respectably because they are reporting what others saw and heard.
  • Readers can make the final judgment call when deciding on the credibility of a story based on the reputation of the sources.

What are the arguments against using anonymous sources?

  • Anonymous sources don’t provide the same clarity on the matter but cloud the subject with nuances of unfounded rumor and speculation.
  • It is quite likely the public will assume the journalist is just making stuff up.
  • Anonymous sources may be promoting specific objectives and goals and using the journalist as a way to convey their message.
  • It is harder for your audience to make a judgement call on your work as they have no way to accurately judge your sources without understanding their risks, positions and relations.

What should you do if you believe a source might be at risk?

Any source in history that I or ever was a source is taking a risk just by opening their mouth. This is the same for anonymous sources as named sources. It will be important to assess risks in every case. Begin by asking these questions to determine the risk your source is taking.

Is anyone else working on this issue? Are there any other groups or organizations that are also in the know and would be happy to go public with this information? If the organization is high profile they may have less of a risk.

How could your story be used? Whose interests would be furthered by broadcasting this information?

Are their interest beneficial or malignant?

What are some of the possible results?

For example:

Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) might use your story as the launching pad to begin a major investigation. In this case the sources you named will become high-value witnesses and this will change their lives forever.

The story could also lead to a police investigation and the risks to the safety of your sources increases.

Your story could lead to any number of people being fired.

Your story may lead to stigma. For example, women who have contracted HIV/AIDS from being raped are often severely stigmatized by their community when their names are published. They may even be isolated and turned away from important commodities like the village well.

The relatives of your sources may also be a target for aggression.

If your source asks to remain anonymous as them why they make this request?

Listen to their answer and carefully assess this by asking yourself:

  • What is the reason they want to remain anonymous?
  • What is the value of the source?
  • What are their personal interests and agendas here?
  • Are they suing me to settle a grudge with someone?
  • Is there a chance they will deny the story later down the line?

Anonymous sources: The golden rules

Once you have given your word that a source will remain anonymous, you must honor this promise.

All sources of information must be critically investigated and checked properly.

The information must be accurate and your source must be reliable.

Try to use anonymous sources as little as possible rather use the information as background and get solid proof from other reliable sources willing to go on record.

Only use the information from an anonymous source if it is essential to the report.

What happens if you are challenged to identify or disclose your source?

You can be challenged to reveal your sources. This can be done illegally, as in being detained and roughed up till you reveal your sources. Or, you could be summoned by the courts to reveal evidence.

If you go to court you will have to carefully consider your next move. You may be facing several consequences if you choose not to reveal your sources. There may be a sentence, for example the prison term or fine. You may risk your credibility and you may risk the safety of your source. You may ask the source to step forward but this is not always likely.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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