Anon Inquiries (part 2): Kansas newspaper uses anonymous sources, creates more questions for budding journalist

As a journalism student I strive to understand all facets of the profession I have fallen in love with.

One of my current points of inquiry is the use of anonymous sources in journalistic reporting (read my first blog about it here). This stems from the situation I encountered last November when I wrote an article for The Sunflower News in which I used an anonymous source and was threatened with allusions of possible legal action (read the story here).

In that case, I felt, and still feel, that my decision was the correct one. I caught some flak from some of my journalism teachers, though, so I decided to look into the topic further.

My search turned up something very interesting Thursday.

In The Wichita Eagle front page story about a landfill in Harper County, two anonymous sources were used (read the story here).

Since The Eagle is the city paper for Wichita State, this is of particular interest because the journalism teachers often use it as examples of various educational points.

My interest was piqued not because I am now against anonymous sources. I firmly believe little important journalism would be done without them.

Just ask Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about the Watergate Hotel.

That doesn’t mean I believe myself to be on the same level as Woodward and Bernstein because they were attacking a national story, but relative to a college campus, my story was big as well.

I don’t know why The Eagle reporter gave those two people anonymity, but I’m sure they had sensible reasons. I’m not questioning their decision, even though one anonymous source said he didn’t want to give his name because of the issue at hand ruining friendships. On the surface this doesn’t seem like a huge reason to allow anonymity, but there was probably more to it than I as a reader know and the reporter knew to fully justify this decision.

Good. I have no problem with it because I have no idea what went into the decision.

I trust the reporter and editors to have made the right decision because they understand journalism and the need to tell important stories.

This mirrors my thought process when I granted anonymity. The story needed to be told to illustrate an important point.

But I wonder what my teachers would say. Some of them were quite opinionated about my use, but what would they say if the news organization was not comprised of students?

They might be just as against it, or they might have a totally different opinion.

I don’t know the answer, but I plan on finding out.

I am going to ask my teachers about this just as I continue to ask them about the story I wrote in November.

My research on the topic has led me to read several scholarly papers about anonymous sources in journalism, but with such a perfect opportunity to look into the topic locally in real-time, this topic has to be broached.

If it turns out that I really don’t get it and am wrong in my thoughts about anonymous sources not being the preferred method but a necessary evil, so be it. I just want to know so I can become a better journalist.

The question of anonymous sources is very important to me, and I look forward to continuing my research. Stay tuned for more.

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About toddvogts 746 Articles
My name is Todd Vogts. I am an assistant professor of media. 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 a published author and journalist. Visit my website at www.toddvogts.com and follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/toddvogts.