Required Reading: The Do’s And Don’ts’ Of Anonymity

Everything in this note has been said before, but needs to be said again. Click the links to read more.

1. First, ask these questions:

– Is the person going to be in danger if we use a full name?

– Is the subject sensitive and among those that could come back to haunt the person because the story will live on the Web forever?

– How hard have we tried to get others with equally good stories who have no problem with the use of their full names?

2. Senior editors must be consulted before we put anonymous voices in our stories.

“Senior editor = a supervising senior editor, a DME or the Standards & Practices noodge. Senior supervising editors can weigh the issues and make the call on this. They should then flag the decision to the DMEs and the S&P. That way the DMEs and S&P can raise concerns if needed, but just as importantly can keep a handle on how often this is happening across the desks and shows.”

3. We don’t create pseudonyms.

“When we decide to withhold a source’s name from a story, we don’t invent a pseudonym for that source. Again, our job is to present factual – not fabricated – information.”

Note: When someone is using a pseudonym they created to hide their identity, we might refer to them by that name if we believe they need to be kept anonymous. In those cases, we explain to the audience what we’re doing.

4. Explain, explain, explain.

We “describe anonymous sources as clearly as [we] can without identifying them” and we explain why they need anonymity.

Note: “NPR has learned” is never enough.

5. No attacks.

“In our coverage, anonymous or unnamed sources generally cannot make pejorative comments about the character, reputation, or personal qualities of another individual, or derogatory statements about an institution. We don’t use such material in our stories, with rare exceptions. (If an individual is blowing the whistle on significant misdeeds or making an allegation of sexual assault, we may decide to air the person’s claims. But we would only make such a decision after careful deliberation with senior news managers.)”

6. No offers.

“Occasionally in the course of our reporting, a source will agree to share information only if it’s not attributed to him or her. Journalists should use their good judgment to determine whether the information merits such a decision. However, we do not begin our quest for interviews by promising to keep a source anonymous or off the record. Our goal is to get as much information as possible on the record.”

There is more on this subject at http://ethics.npr.org/. Just type “anonymous” or “anonymity” in the search box at the top of the page. 

(“Memmos;” April 18, 2017)

April 18, 2017

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