Anonymous Letter to the Editor
I am one of the silent believers in a strong “free press” for the survival of our wonderful people, communities, and country.
Our freedoms are preserved through your efforts and those of the enlightened press.
You must expect some opposition when doing what is in the public’s best interest.
It is a sign that you are doing something and doing it right.
Keep it up with a strong heart.
The world is made a better place by you and people like you.
I recently received a letter to the editor that contained comments that spoke to my heart and the foundation of a democratic belief. The letter contained a local name and legitimate email so I corresponded with the anonymous contributor who prefers to hold on to his anonymity (for now).
After speaking with a trusted ethical professor about the letter, he suggested a column on the ethics behind anonymity, so here we go. What better place to start than the Society of Professional Journalists, (SPJ) Ethics Committee Position Papers.
Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
Anonymous sources certainly have a checkered journalistic history. None is more famous and perhaps none was more important than Watergate’s “Deep Throat,” the FBI source who helped The Washington Post unravel the White House cover-up of the Watergate break-in. And perhaps none was more infamous than those Janet Cooke invented to concoct her fictitious Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a child heroin addict.
Anonymity is the name of the Washington game. Everyone seems to be an administration or congressional source or a law enforcement or military source. Politics and ego-stroking seem to dissolve everyone into the “unnamed.”
Anonymous sources are sometimes the only key to unlocking that big story, throwing back the curtain on corruption, fulfilling the journalistic missions of watchdog on the government and informant to the citizens. But sometimes, anonymous sources are the road to the ethical swamp.
With that being said, what do you do with a letter from a reader that wants to remain nameless? I believe you have to stick to your values and only publish a piece if they remove the cloak of anonymity.
I used this letter as an example of the ethics that are represented by our actions. Actions that establish the foundation of truth and credibility. I believe it is important for our publication to be a platform for your voice, but lines can become blurry through anonymity. A proud voice should stand by their words, be respectful and always hold their head high.
As a society, we will get nowhere if we continue to avoid truths to avoid offense. We can speak our mind in a respectful way, even if we step on a few toes along the way. “The truth can be ugly, and that’s what makes it so beautiful. If someone claims to be offended, it is not because of you, nor is it your fault. They simply may not like the taste of the bittersweet truth.” Caitlyn Paige
What if I said to you, I wrote the letter?