You want to localize a story on colleges and universities requiring students to be vaccinated before they can start classes. Can you find two leads for a human source at the American Academy of Pediatrics website? Do any of the organization’s posts provide you with credible background information? What concerns arise, if any, about using this information?
You’re doing a breaking news story about sewage leaking into the city water supply. Here are the five sources you’ve identified to gather information:
The city’s head of water and sewage
The assistant to the city’s head of water and sewage
A local activist for environmental safety
A nearby resident who saw raw sewage leaking into the water supply
A professor on campus who specializes in water quality and safety
You do some quick research, make a few phone calls, and find that:
The city’s head of water and sewage is busy but says she talk to you tomorrow evening.
The assistant to the city’s head of water and sewage can talk to you right away and also maybe give you some leads on public records.
The local activist for environmental safety is available for an interview. He's an often-quoted source about such issues, and he is known for having a chip on his shoulder when it comes to water issues because he disagrees with how the government IS so intrusive.
The nearby resident who saw raw sewage leaking into the water supply has seen this happen once before. He just wants clean water. He’s available for an interview.
The professor on campus who specializes in water quality also has a law degree with a specialization in water rights. She’s available for an interview.
Which sources would you choose to interview? In what order would you interview them? What factors would you take into consideration as you decide whether to wait for the interview with the head of water and sewage?
Read this story about beatings at Rikers Island, New York. Beginning eight paragraphs from the bottom, the story includes quotes and information by a social worker who was granted anonymity by the New York Times.
Then read this related Times story. Scroll down about halfway through the story and think about the content of the “Reader Perspectives” box.
Now read this post by Reuters columnist Jack Shafer, who comments on the Times story above and using unnamed or anonymous sources in general. Lastly, read this piece about anonymous sources and reader complaints by Margaret Sullivan, who was the Times’ Public Editor.
How would you explain to a friend the complexity of granting—or not—anonymity to a source?