The use of anonymity

26 Dec

The use of anonymity

By Jenna Spoont, 45Words Student Partner

As the Managing Editor of my school’s newspaper, The Spoke, I coordinate and oversee the content of the newspaper. At The Spoke, we choose to cover hard-hitting, controversial stories because it is our obligation as journalists to report on what is happening in the community and what people can do to change problems.

For the December issue of our newspaper, I wrote a story called “World Wide Watch” about the dangers of sexting and the spread of inappropriate images across the Internet. Originally, the angle of the story was to report on technology addiction among students. As I walk through the hallways at my school, it seems as if everyone’s attention is focused on who texted them during the last class period. But the angle did not pan out, because as I was writing my budget for the story, a nearby high school faced a sex video scandal involving students. It was as if the new angle for my story had jumped right in front of me.

I talked to The Spoke’s Editorial Board regarding the new angle on sexting, and asked them if they think it should be covered. We decided that the spread of inappropriate images and videos is not just happening at that local high school; it’s happening at my school, and most likely every school. There has been an increase in the spread of inappropriate images across the Internet in the past decade, according to Dr. Rob D’Ovidio, a professor of Criminal Justice at Drexel University, who I interviewed for my story.

As this story is a sensitive issue, I decided that I was going to take anonymity into account when I quote sources in my story. There were many questions that I had to ask myself during this process. Will using a pseudonym for my source lose my credibility as a reporter? Will the story be believable? Should the source own up to what they did?

Ultimately, I decided that using pseudonyms for my sources would be the only way to get them to talk. As most of the students are verging on their college careers, they did not want their legal name to appear in an article where they admit to an illegal act. And as a matter of fact, I felt that using a source’s real name would transform the article into a gossip column, rather than a serious news story.

In the past, I have written front page stories on U.S. citizenship, adoption and tanning, but I have never written a story as pressing as “World Wide Watch”. I hope other student journalists cover controversial issues such as this one, because the community, no matter where you live, needs to know what is happening. Our job as student journalists is to report the facts. No matter what your opinion is on an issue, always remember to simply report the facts. If you want to show both sides of the story, interview a plethora of sources. Although I did not use all of the sources in my story, there were approximately a dozen people interviewed so that I could see all of the perspectives on this controversial topic.

Covering this story taught me how to work with sources that want to remain anonymous. The co-editors-in-chiefs and I are going to change our newspaper’s policy on anonymity in the coming months. We want a universal policy across the paper so that all of the reporters know when to use anonymity and how to use it.

Student journalists, if you ever have any questions about the use of anonymity, or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact 45Words. Also, the Student Press Law Center was extremely helpful in guiding me through the legality of anonymity.

To read “World Wide Watch,” CLICK HERE

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