Section: Editorial

Anonymity requires responsibility

As journalists, we take our anonymity policy seriously. We only offer it to sources when the circumstances demand discretion. Following other news organizations around the world, we generally offer anonymity to the survivors of sexual assault or to people who could lose their job if they speak to the Collegian.

That said, sometimes sources that have individualized information will only speak to our reporters under the condition of anonymity. Our process requires that at least one of our executive editors know a source’s identity to determine the credibility of the information presented.

In making this determination, our executive staff also weigh the potential harms and benefits anonymity may cause the source and the integrity of the article itself. This is what happened this week in the course of reporting our story about the vandalized Planned Parenthood posters. The person responsible for the vandalism was connected with our reporter through a mutual friend on the condition of anonymity. He agreed to be identified by his gender and class year, but did not agree to having his name published.

We considered the decision to give him anonymity quite carefully, because anonymity is a form of protection. We understand that by not revealing this person’s identity, we’re allowing them to engage with an important debate on their terms, and avoid accountability for their actions. But in this case, it was the only way to present a perspective to which some students might not otherwise be exposed, and to address multiple sides of the issue. Through the interview, we saw that his perspective was more complex than what we initially thought.

We wondered what we would do if our campus was highly conservative and a pro-choice student chose to speak to us. We concluded that we would likely agree to make that hypothetical source anonymous, as the producers of This American Life did in an episode of their show called “Red State Blue State.” The host, Ira Glass, agreed not to identify a person, or the Southern town he was from, even though the source drove him around. The source said he was a Democrat in a deeply Republican town, and he was afraid of the social stigma.

Each of our executive editors is pro-choice, and we value the services Planned Parenthood provides to help keep our communities healthy, safe and informed. As a result, we thought it was important to include this individual’s perspective.

We welcome your feedback on our policy, as the debate on anonymous sources is one of the most pressing issues facing journalists today.

The staff editorial was written this week by the executive editors of the Collegian, editors-in-chief Bailey Blaker ’18 and Gabrielle Healy ’18 and managing editor Lauren Eller ’18. You can contact them at blakerb@kenyon.edu, healyg@kenyon.edu and ellerl@kenyon.edu, respectively.

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