Editors Column: The Good, The Bad, The Anonymous

Sarah Willson, Editor-in-Chief

Anonymous sources are often a big no-no in the journalism world. Critics would say they lack transparency, accountability and, often, credibility. They’re often deemed as unethical as well. Anonymity is never ideal, but let’s face it: it’s sometimes necessary in order to tell the full story.

The Associated Press Stylebook swears by attribution. It says that any news reports “must attribute any disputable facts that were not witnessed, gathered or confirmed on our own.” In other words, secondhand information, or information that isn’t common knowledge, must always be cited.

This is the way it should be. Whenever possible, journalists should cite their sources. After all, the public has a right to know as much information as possible. The problem only begins to creep in when a source, oftentimes for valid reasons, chooses to be unidentified.

No journalist, or student journalist, wants to grant anonymity to a source. In a perfect world, sources would always be on-the-record and held accountable for the information they share with reporters.

The Recorder faced a particular ethical dilemma when we were approached with the story regarding the sexual misconduct policy violation by Central Connecticut Mathematical Sciences Associate Professor Mihai Bailesteanu; the student, fearing for her safety, asked to remain anonymous.

Had we not told the student she could remain off-the-record, she never would have shared her story with us. And without her sharing her story, Bailesteanu would probably still be a finalist for Central Connecticut’s Excellence in Teaching Awards.

The same goes for last year’s story on the theatre department. Had The Recorder told one of the women mentioned in the story that she was required to go on-the-record, we may have never had the privilege of lending her a platform.

The Recorder did everything in its power to ensure that nothing could identify the student accusing Bailesteanu. We did it to protect her safety. That being said, it was disheartening to see that other news outlets, including CCSU, failed to exercise this self-censorship.

Though her name was never said, the Freedom of Information documents released went into enough detail that, if someone had wanted to badly enough, they could have identified her. The student who came forward already took enough of a risk with the possibility of Bailesteanu identifying and retaliating against her. She doesn’t need the rest of the world to, either.

Our news editor put it best: “Our priority at The Recorder lies not only with seeking and reporting the truth, but also with minimizing harm.”

All that being said, we wanted to protect this student. And had we had to do everything over again, we wouldn’t change anything.

In the future, if another student has a story he or she wants to share anonymously, The Recorder vows to do its best to protect him or her in the face of retaliation.