Editorial: How The Journal protects its sources


This editorial is the view of the editorial board, which is comprised of 12 editors. 

We here at The Journal strive to inform our readership to the best of our abilities, while we, as student journalists, learn along the way.

Most of the time, the relationship between The Journal and our readers is shown through our coverage of City Council proceedings, lawsuits and events on and off campus. But on occasion we need to look at our own journalistic practices to best inform our readers.

Recently Journal reporters have needed to inform multiple sources about off-the-record and anonymous sourcing after interviews. So our possible sources can feel more comfortable in knowing their options during an interview, we have decided to explain these different levels of source protection.

In journalism there are three basic types of sources: on the record, off the record and anonymous. The tricky part is that a single person could be all three at once.

On-the-record sources are the most common and easiest to explain of the three. They are sources who give information the reporter can freely use in their stories.

This information can be in the form of quotes attributed to that person or in information citing them. Unless the source and reporter come to an agreement to be off the record before information is given, that information can be used.

Off-the-record sources give information that cannot be used in the final story but can help the reporter conduct further reporting. Again, this kind of source must communicate  their desire for their information to be off the record before the interview.

Then, the reporter can decide if they are willing to go off the record. If not, the source can choose whether they will share the information on the record or not share it at all.

An example of this would be a source coming to a reporter and the two arriving at a mutual understanding that anything they say would be off the record. They then could go on to tell the reporter the information.

The reporter now has this information to further investigate the matter, but is unable to use that information on its own in a story.

Anonymous sources are most similar to on-the-record sources. They give information that can be cited as well as  quoted. The difference is an anonymous source is not named, but rather listed as anonymous.

Policies regarding anonymous sourcing vary by publication. Some publications refuse to allow anonymous sourcing and other publications are willing to use them.

The Journal always strives to avoid using anonymous sources. Readership trusts a name and a face. For the same reason, we do not accept any anonymous pieces on our opinions pages. Our view is that we should all be accountable for what we say.

But that is not to say The Journal will never use anonymous sources. In extreme cases, such as when a source could be put in harm’s way or unnecessary distress, we would consider the possibility.

If, as a source, you are ever unsure of your possibilities or forget any of this information, just ask the reporter. We are all learning and would be happy to discuss the ins-and-outs of sourcing to find the best option for you.

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