Policy on Anonymous Sources

In accordance with journalistic ethics, the McDaniel Free Press is committed to ensuring sources are accurate and ethical. As the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) states, “The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.”  

The McDaniel Free Press grants anonymity only in rare, necessary cases and explains the reasoning for doing so. In general, and in keeping with the SPJ Code of Ethics, the Free Press “reserve[s] anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere.” 

As journalists, we recognize the importance of giving our readers information that lets them judge the reliability of sources. But this obligation must be balanced against our obligation to serve as a community watchdog, especially where investigative reporting identifies the existence of a pattern or risk affecting student safety and wellbeing. 

Relationships with anonymous sources are built on trust and are developed over time as our reporters gain more information. The Free Press does not rely on sources who are unwilling to be known to the reporter. Sources that are anonymous in stories must not be anonymous to the reporter, and they may only go unnamed in the published article. The identity of the source must be made available to the reporter so the source’s motivations can be evaluated for any prior history or animus. 

The Free Press values the importance of understanding a source’s motivation for sharing their stories with us. By becoming aware of their agendas, the editorial staff seeks to better understand their stories and balance it with other relevant information. Methods of assessing motivation must be discussed among the editorial staff. The Free Press will not publish a statement from an unnamed source unless satisfied that the reporter of the unnamed source has fully evaluated the source’s motives.

Concerns about reprisal, or other harm, must be not only felt in good faith and be recognized by a reasonable individual. The concern does not necessarily mean that the Free Press believes the source will suffer retaliation, only that the fear is understandable given the source’s position and their relative exposure to unsafe persons or situations. 

Qualifications for anonymity of a source:

  • Anonymity may be granted to a source with information relevant to a highly newsworthy story if that person reasonably fears reprisal or other harm by being named publicly in the story; and/or reasonably finds it highly offensive to have certain personal details from the story made public in connection with their name. 
  • When sharing the stories of multiple anonymous sources, the editorial staff considers the proximity of those sources to the subject of the article and each other (ex. Sharing a particular group affiliation). 
  • Anonymous sources are reliable and consistent.
  • Anonymous sources are only utilized in instances where it is difficult/impossible to obtain that information otherwise. 
  • Anonymity must be cleared with the Editor-in-Chief (or all Co-Editors-in-Chief)
    • An individual reporter can not promise anonymity to a source. Anonymity must be a decision made by the editors.
  • The editor-in-chief has made direct contact with the source to ensure reliability.

For any additional questions, contact our Co-Editors-in-Chief.