You (probably) can’t be an anonymous source

Graphic by Rainier Pederson | Mercury Staff

There’s an inquiry you receive a lot as an editor at The Mercury — “Can I be anonymous?” And the answer, for the most part, is no.

From news stories to opinion pieces, The Mercury receives a surprising number of students requesting to both share their voice in our publication and yet also remain unnamed. But there are very strict rules for using anonymity in the newspaper, and that is for good reason. Named sources are the foundation of credible journalism. Putting a face to the name or a name to words is the only way we can stand behind our claims and prove to the public that our information is well-founded.

Let’s be clear—there are situations in journalism where the use of an anonymous source is appropriate; the main application for our organization would be in cases of a direct threat to your physical safety or financial livelihood. For example, you may be the whistleblower on an abusive employer, like the anonymous source that was used in a 2019 investigation by The Mercury into allegations of sexual harassment among UTD dining supervisors. In this case, if the student worker was named, she could have lost her job or have been antagonized even more by her manager. You could be at the center of an incident where speaking out could attract further victimization, like a situation of alleged sexual harassment and cyberstalking that The Mercury reported on in 2014.

But with the vast majority of the requests for anonymity that we receive, there is no dire threat. People just don’t want to be posted on utdbruhmoments. The issue is, feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed is not putting you or your family in danger. Your feelings are not a valid reason to request anonymity.

We have received several pitches for opinion pieces that were immediately prefaced by a request for anonymity. Some of these were more innocuous, like a person opposed to the 2022 athletics fee, or more controversial, like someone who was opposed to the 2023 SJP resolution. In either case, the reason given was that they didn’t want people to publicly associate their name with their expressed views. But then what exactly is the point of an opinion?

If you want to use our platform to publicly express your views, then you better have the nerve to put your name behind it. If not, then you ought not reach out to a journalist at all. You can’t have it both ways. If you want a megaphone to blare your thoughts to the whole world, then you need to be prepared for people to answer back.

This is the tenuous but important relationship that media holds with the world. As journalists, we are just as much members of the civil service as a city council member or a police officer. We literally establish to the public what the facts are, and though all humans are biased, we are sworn by profession to communicate the truth. The only way we can ensure that journalists maintain their objectivity is if they are held accountable, and that can only be done with a paper trail.

What would it look like if we published an investigative piece where every single source is unnamed? There is literally no way to guarantee that any of it is true, because the staff writer could have just invented the entire story as a creative writing prompt. It is by our sources just as much as our bylines that we prove our credibility.

And then we come to the opinion pieces. This is probably the one area of journalism where we will not allow anonymity at all. Because there is no reason for it. We are not a gossip column. This is not Yik Yak. The Mercury is a news publication, and we only publish opinions from those mature enough to own up to them.

People are allowed to disagree with you, in fact, they are expected to. This is why rebuttals were once commonplace in newspaper opinion sections and why we still actively solicit letters to the editor. Maybe this has been forgotten in the social media age, but we used to have a culture that encouraged open discussion and welcomed debate. This is not possible when you don’t exist as a person. We are not here to publish a ghost.

So please, before you ask to be anonymous, consider the following: could this article kill me? If the answer is no, then you have our answer too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *