Anon Inquiries (part 1): Anonymity needed tool for nation’s journalists

Recently a story was published in The St. Charles Journal, a small Missouri newspaper near St. Louis, about a 13-year-old girl, Megan Meier, who committed suicide because of a comment she received on her MySpace page from her online crush.

This wouldn’t have normally garnered as much media attention as it is, especially since the suicide did not happen recently.

However, this case is different.

Megan’s online crush was fictional, and he was created as part of a hoax fabricated by adults.

One such adult was a mother of one of Megan’s former friends.

It’s a disheartening story involving adults who are clearly some of the most despicable people on earth, but what some people seem to have an equally large problem with is The Journal did not publish the names of the perpetrating mother who created the fake MySpace account when they broke the story earlier this month.

Of course, since then readers and bloggers have uncovered and released the name of the mother and her husband, Lori and Curt Drew, but The Journal stands behind its decision, stating anonymity was granted in order to protect the woman’s daughter from ridicule by being identified through association.

The public at large doesn’t seem to understand why journalists grant people anonymity, and in the case of Megan’s death, it makes sense because people are outraged at what was done.

Due to this lack of understanding, The Journal has had to defend its position, and since I don’t know all of the thoughts that went into the decision, I don’t criticize The Journal’s decision makers.

Instead, I empathize with them.                              

As editor-in-chief of The Sunflower News at Wichita State, I know how everyone there must be feeling because I too have granted someone anonymity in a recent story.

I have received a lot of feed back about my decision to use an anonymous source in an article I wrote on Nov. 12 about a WSU student-organization adviser, Mike Madecky, who posted a photo on his Facebook profile that showed him with underage students sitting in his personal hot tub holding glasses filled with what appeared to be alcohol.

The article was an accompanying piece to an article I wrote covering a lecture about online safety and how to be more aware of what is posted on social-networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The accompanying article not only discussed and showed Madecky’s transgression but also discussed two other incidents where a social-networking site had affected the WSU community.

An anonymous source was present in the article discussing knowledge, observations, and opinions about Madecky.

Many readers of The Sunflower News have expressed problems with my use of an anonymous source, but much like the staff of The Journal, I firmly stand behind my decision.

The decision was based upon everything I had been taught about journalism thus far in my education, and since the outcries about my decision, I have begun researching the topic of anonymity in journalism.

I am happy to report I am finding my decision is supported by the majority of the journalistic community.

Writing for The Columbia Journalism Review, Mike Hoyt said it well: “Nobody who is realistic wants to outlaw anonymous sourcing. And journalists know that to limit it is to limit certain stories.”

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About toddvogts 733 Articles
My name is Todd Vogts. I like the color green, riding my motorcycle, and being with my family and friends. A good book is a perfect companion for me any time, and I'm an author and journalist. Visit my website at www.toddvogts.com and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/toddvogts.